There is no meaningful way of writing about guitar driven instrumental music, which appeals to a niche group, without alienating a segment of the audience. That being said, the article is also, hopefully, not going to be unintelligible to the general readers. Guthrie Govan’s recent show in Dhaka took place on February 26, where the headlining appearance by the British guitarist was preceded by outstanding performances from Quanta, Samir and Wasiun, X-Factor (Iqbal Asif Jewel) and Ershad Zaman.
Guthrie Govan often carries the unfair distinction of being a “guitarist’s guitarist,” or even a “virtuoso's virtuoso.” Unfair, not because it is unmerited, but because such titles are often interpreted as “people who make intolerable geek music.” Granted, Erotic Cakes (Guthrie’s solo instrumental album) is hardly passable as a party playlist. But what makes his music approachable for the 'lay' listeners is the discernible patterns and changes that Guthrie constantly employs.
As a natural consequence of being a 'third world' country, Bangladesh has had the misfortune of never being able to host great international artists with any regularity. However, suddenly we have had the peculiar privilege of being visited by probably two of the most public faces in the “guitarist’s guitarist” category - John McLaughlin in 2015 and now Guthrie Govan in 2017.
Even with Guthrie’s notoriety in the 'shred' world and a solid reputation as an immensely tasteful player, Rasheeq Rayhan, the organiser and the man behind The Rock Project Dhaka, was uncertain if the event will pull enough crowd. Whether or not the show broke even, the auditorium at the Krishibid Institute was quite crowded on February 26.
Had Guthrie been touring with The Aristocrats - his super group comprising of Bryan Beller and Marco Minnemann - the rest of the auditorium would probably have been filled, with more people waiting outside. Marco Minnemann became quite a known figure after his publicised audition for the famed progressive metal band Dream Theater. Thanks to the dramatised documentary film made from the drum audition, Marco is now recognised by all fans of Mike Portnoy, who is easily one of the most famous contemporary drummers.
But with, at least, two third of the 950 seats capacity auditorium filled, the turnout was not bad at all. The presence of Mohini Dey, the prodigy bass player widely known for playing for A R Rahman, must have helped, as evident by the resounding cheers during all of her bass solos. But the least famous member of Guthrie’s trio happens to be just as remarkable a musician as his peers. Son of the 'Godfather of Indian Jazz' Louise Banks, Gino has made the Banks family proud by becoming one of the most skilled drummers in the world.
With Mohini Dey and Gino Banks driving the rhythm behind Guthrie’s guitar wizardry, the band was not any less equipped to dazzle than The Aristocrats. But the sound, unsurprisingly, suffered from terrible mixing, despite what must be the best efforts exerted by local engineers. The bass guitar masked the front of the house sound and drums were pushed to the point of clipping. On-stage sound had its moments of infamy with Guthrie commenting “this does not resemble the sound we heard during the sound check in the morning in any way, shape or form.”
But those familiar with Guthrie’s erudite speaking style and charming manners will know that the announcement was delivered with pure jauntiness and good humour. And the audience could not help but laugh. As the hawkish manager of Guthrie paced from side to side to fix the on-stage monitors, Guthrie entertained the crowd with comments like: “meanwhile more discussions are occurring on the other side of the stage with our esteemed monitor man.”
Mohini’s bass solo was bound to be a highlight of the show, and it was. Renowned guitarist Steve Vai had once said that Mohini was the “most in time player” he has ever heard. If anyone had any doubts regarding the truth of this statement, it was quickly dispelled after her 10 minute long solo. Gino enthralled the crowd with an equally, if not more, engaging drums solo. He even had the audience participate by trading beats with them. It’s a pity that the mesmerising dynamics in Gino’s masterful strokes were diminished by an inadequate mix.
Despite the sound difficulties, the crowd enjoyed the whole performance, starting from “Bad Asteroid” to “Wonderful Slippery Thing” to the most requested “Waves.” His immensely informative playing style can be described as Robben Ford and Larry Carlton on steroids. The audience loved everything, from the tapping passages to the chord melodies; from the chicken pickin’ to the ridiculously flawless and prolonged unpicked legato section at the end of “Waves.” However, “Rhode Island Shred” was not performed, which preeminently features the country style (Guthrie said about the track during a live performance that it wasn’t “meant to be intentionally irreverent”). By the end, a few hundred music loving souls in Dhaka were left awestruck.