As I walked around the newly renovated 1103 Third St. SE to the CSPS, the smell of summer floated fragile in the air of this strangely spring-like late winter; in weather like this, anything can happen and everything is up for grabs.
Greeted with genuine smiles and lead along by polite inquiries, I found myself sitting in what could have been the modified auditorium you’d find in the gym of a high school built for a town collective in the middle of, well, Iowa. However, the lighting was too refined and the sound system far too quality.
After a sincere introduction by Legion Art Executive Director F. John Herbert, Peppino D’Agostino stepped out from behind a doorway and on to a warm woven rug resting atop a riser stage, two amplifiers positioned in front of him like stage lights for vibrations of much more audible frequencies, and between them two microphone stands, one position for the star of the show, D’Agostino’s guitar, and the other on a swivel for the Maestro to speak, if it seemed necessary.
D’Agostino strapped his guitar on to his body, as though he were putting on a prosthetic limb, if prosthetics were advanced enough no one could tell the difference between flesh and synthetics. The body of the guitar opened over the musician’s heart, seeming to say, “Here it is! Listen carefully for it has a rhythm much unlike your own, and you may learn something from this.” As D’Agostino began my eyes fluttered closed and the music took over space, filled in all the cracks and crevices with deep notes and wild vibrations, waited patiently in surprise for my ears to turn certain corners. I found myself on several occasions spontaneously smiling for no other reason than music, in pure wonder at the intuitive mathematics of notes and fractal structure of complex melody.
D’Agostino played two sets, and for the most part, there is little for me to say, much of which has already been attempted; language seems too clunky, too contrived, so about the music… listen to it.
Now, a little more about the man; Peppino D’Agostino revealed little of his life other than an obsession with the guitar and a sense of adventure and worldliness which lead him to Cedar Rapids on this particular night, “Every Step of the Way” (also a 2002 LP release by D’Agostino… listen to it). However, two things in particular did catch my attention.
During his sets D’Agostino played with an intensity of concentration I have rarely seen, if not for its seamless relaxation. His eyes trance open and close, his fingers rip across the frets and dance upon the strings with the grace and strength of a ballerino. I noticed how every so often his hand would hop away from the guitar entirely, as if to say, “Look, ma! No hands!” More importantly was the instance I watched his little finger slowly hover away from the hand, the muscles in his forearm contracting, pulling the digit out, spring-loading it before it fell firmly into place, to me this was the epitome of D’Agostino’s concentration, the steady build and swift delivery of the tonally rich and technically complex arrangements he has spent decades perfecting.
As his second set wound to a close, D’Agostino took a moment to return attention to the elephantine vibrations in the room. Brilliantly, he asked the audience to close our eyes, to forget he was there; he broke down the allure, the visage of the master artist, and focused the spot lights of our awareness on the music to open our depths of field to the interplay between the deepest bass to the highest countertenor. He then asked us to use his music as a sort of film reel, to create and become artists, each of us individually, and from our awareness through the music make a movie; imagine, if you will…
a deep summer’s day, ocean blue storm clouds rolling lazily in the distance, the wind sweeping emerald green fields wave over wave. An old pickup crests the horizon haloed by a corona of dust and exhaust, a youthful woman looks towards the familiar sound while she unclips the laundry from the line, and a young boy comes running around the house, his spotted hound following him close as a shadow…
Needless to say, the music swept me away, and D’Agostino is a refreshingly sophisticated and masterful performer to have the privilege of seeing. He gladly welcomed all of us after the show, answering our eager questions and signing our freshly purchased copies of his music (mine, his new release “Nine White Kites”). It is unfortunate he had to come under the rule of holiday law, St. Patrick’s Day seemed to sap the ‘ol CSPS gymtorium of listeners; the room much too large for the audience, but not for the artist.