Country Music Hall of Fame guitarist Chet Atkins and his protege Jerry Reed have recorded together on numerous occasions through the years. But joint appearances have been few, and seeing either of them in a room as small as McCabe’s even rarer. These two shows, which sold out in minutes, are destined for the history books.
Not that there was anything stuffy about the performances. In fact, the second set Sunday night was extremely loose.
The two guitarists joshingly suggested numbers that neither of them could remember, the usually quiet Atkins told an R-rated joke, and Atkins — notoriously tasteful almost to a fault — employed heavy distortion in a parody of rock guitarists on a version of “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” updated for the recent Atkins/Mark Knopfler duet album by Atkins and Margaret Archer.
In fact, the two eschewed a big-time introduction. Instead, Atkins peered into the audience from the stairway to McCabe’s dressing room, inquiring, “Can I come down yet?”
He then took the stage for two numbers, solo, before bringing on Reed.
The first was a version of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles,” with Atkins characteristically playing simultaneous bass and melody lines.
He followed up with the standard “Lover, Come Back to Me” in a jazzy style, reminiscent of Les Paul.
Reed then joined Atkins for the remainder of the hour-plus set, with the two alternating lead and rhythm functions (often switching roles back and forth within a single song), and occasionally performing solo.
Some of the more spontaneous songs, most of them Reed originals, were sloppy fun.
“I rehearsed a few mistakes into this one,” Reed commented at one point; at another, he confessed having composed another “to see how complicated I could get without going insane.”
To his credit, Reed countered requests for his novelty hits “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” and “Amos Moses” with the vow, “Tonight, I’m gonna pick.”
A terrific, underrated songwriter, Reed this time did sing, but it was other people’s songs –“Georgia on My Mind,” Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” and the ’70s country crossover hit “All I Ever Need Is You.”
Highlights featuring Atkins included his versions of Don McLean’s ballad “Vincent” and the standard “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” both solo, and duets with Reed including “Sneakin’ Around” (the title song of the duo’s new Sony Music/Columbia album) and Reed’s vintage “The Claw.”
Guitar fans dismayed by the news that the renown duo would be bringing along a third guitarist and a keyboard player needn’t have worried: Paul Yandell has been playing rhythm guitar with Reed, and then Atkins, for a quarter-century altogether, and Randy Goodrum (better known as the composer of hits including Crystal Gayle’s “I’ll Get Over You” and Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me”) may be the quietest pianist since the Modern Jazz Quartet’s John Lewis.