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Andy McKee at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

by Ruqayyah Moynihan. Published Sat 07 Oct 2017 00:57

In anticipation of his new album release in 2018, ‘Guitar God’ Andy McKee has crossed the Atlantic once again to treat the UK to a series of gigs – returning to Liverpool last night to play a set at the Philharmonic.

While the crowd was intimate, the show sold out, the room was full and the audience buzzing.

McKee slipped onto the stage so soundlessly that it took a moment for the crowd to notice he’d entered: for someone who’s come to be deified by guitar enthusiasts worldwide, the 38-year- old songwriter is still as surprisingly humble as he was five years ago when he performed the Guitar Masters Tour alongside his predecessor, Preston Reed, and Blackpool- born, Jon Gomm, at the Epstein.

Opening with a firm favourite from among his own compositions, Ebon Coast, within moments the unmistakeable, unearthly sound of Andy’s trance-like harmonics filled the air.

The sound he produces using a fanned-fret guitar mimics that of a drum-kit, a bass and a standard acoustic guitar or that of a loop pedal – but as a fingerstyle player, McKee really is managing the rhythm, melody and harmony sections of his music from just one instrument.

His face strained in something between intense concentration and aural ecstasy, McKee took us through a spine-tingling performance of Heather’s Song, then racing through a funky, pacy rendition of Don Ross’ Tight Trite Night, using not only the frets and strings but the body of the guitar too.

While McKee did release albums from 2001 onwards, he originally earned his income through teaching guitar in his hometown of Topeka in Kansas. It was when Rob Poland, founder of CandyRat Records, asked Andy to upload a few videos to YouTube that everything changed: it was one of these recordings, Drifting, which has now garnered over 56 million hits, that (unbeknownst to McKee in 2005) was to sling the fingerpicking prodigy into online stardom.

Andy then introduced Ouray, a piece inspired by a spring break he spent in Colorado at 17, sending a chorus of laughter around the crowd with a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders and a wry smile as he cheekily ad-libbed a few seconds of Fleetwood Mac’s Never Going Back Again.

Mouthing the words to Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World and belting out chords in a powerful rendition of Toto’s Africa – complete with boot-stamping – the joy of watching Andy perform is as much in his hypnotic movements and his warm sense of humour as it is in his music.

His right hand struck, stroked and tapped the strings between sporadically slapping and drumming the guitar body with thumbs, fingertips, heels and knuckles to create rhythmic percussion, while his left hand came over the top of the fret board.

After a tribute to Michael Hedges, he unveiled a fantastical instrument he called a harp guitar with six extra non-fretted base strings. His hands a pair of blurs across the two necks and twelve strings, it was an ethereal experience basking in Andy’s music as his harp guitar sent reflections around the room.

Normally performing certain songs with a baritone, ever-resourceful Andy even made do with the fanned-fret guitar he’d used throughout when a member of the audience requested Blue Liquid.

Watching Andy over a screen is impressive; seeing him live is an experience not to be missed. A simultaneously comedic, moving, impressive and interactive performance and a versatile array of upbeat, funky and thoughtful pieces, Andy’s fingerpicking finesse tonight has earned him a Purple Revolver rating of 4.9/5.


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