Even in the big space of the Strand, Les Paul’s act still has amazing intimacy, and plenty to teach any performer.
Every Monday night in Lower Manhattan, one can hear guitar wizard Paul ripping through his mighty bag of licks in a narrow basement club called Fat Tuesday’s.
Though Paul’s current trio has been playing there since 1984, not until Friday night in Redondo Beach’s spacious Strand did Los Angeles get a taste of the act. And the good news is that Les (who turns 77 today) still has plenty left to burn.
Young and middle-aged rockers, of course, revere Paul for his pioneering work on the electric guitar, recording techniques and effects devices.
What often goes unsaid is that Paul has always been an astonishing musician, amply documented at last on Capitol’s impressive recent anthology, “The Legend and the Legacy.”
Arthritis in Paul’s fingers, alas, may mean his playing days are numbered, and he seemed to need nearly half an hour to get things moving fluidly.
Yet with “Embraceable You” and “Stardust,” the trademark fast arpeggios and jazz chords began to come more easily and his guitar’s once-brittle tone became smoother, brighter and bolder.
Before long, Paul was treating the packed club to an encyclopedia of swooping glides and asymmetrical flurries with Lou Pallo’s unflappable rhythm guitar and casual vocals, with occasional solos by string bassist Gary Mazzaroppi.
Paul sprinkled in a few classic records like his signature take on “How High the Moon” at two tempos and a touching tribute to his late partner Mary Ford, “Just One More Chance.” His solos still have an intuitive capacity for surprise and he isn’t shy about reaching into his large reservoir of witty quotes.
By mid-set, Paul was bantering easily with the audience. When a fan called out for “Steel Guitar Rag,” Les gave him the flip side of that record, “Guitar Boogie,” mixed cleverly with “Tennessee Waltz.”
Later, he reached way back to the ’30s when he was a country picker named Rhubarb Red, exuberantly singing “I Want My Rib.”