The show started with a bang and ended with a bigger bang. In between, there were salutes to veterans, classic American marches, bales of lively bluegrass music and lots and lots of laughs. Emphasis on lots and lots.
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell kicked off a three-night stint at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday before a red, white and blue crowd estimated at over 12,000. The roughly two-hour performance proved at least one thing: Martin’s Mark Twain prize for American humor in 2005 was no fluke.
Virtually all of the laughs came from a character, now a staple of modern comedy, pioneered and perfected by Martin. The self-obsessed celebrity jerk who somehow remains entirely likable.
In talking about Brickell in between songs, Martin told the audience he’s learned a lot about her as they performed together around the country. Her favorite movie, Martin said, is “Father of the Bride.” Her favorite Oscar host is Steve Martin.
“Well, that’s enough about Edie,” he said.
But Martin did not open the show. That task fell to the peppy conductor John Morris Russell. A USC graduate, he bounced onto stage with a red, white and blue bow tie and soon was leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the national anthem as a few fireworks were set off for dramatic effect. (The real pyrotechnics closed the show.)
In the continuation of a wonderful Bowl Fourth of July tradition, Russell then embarked on a musical celebration of each of the branches of the Armed Forces and its veterans. With the U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West performing as well, service members past and present from each branch stood to enthusiastic applause when their song was played.
After an early intermission, which came after less than 40 minutes, Martin, Brickell and the Rangers took over the stage and played for the next 90 minutes or so. In introducing one of their first songs, Martin described it as one that critics all over the country were calling “track number seven.”
Martin has been playing a banjo since he was a teenager, and it can no longer be surprising to anyone that the comedian is an accomplished musical performer. Still, his self-deprecating jokes about his skills indicate that he knows full well that he’s not the best musician on the stage. And while it’s clear Martin loves bluegrass and the banjo, his facial expressions -- on display on the Bowl’s big screens -- don’t come close to matching the joyous and spirited songs he is playing.
After another number, Martin told the July 2nd crowd their fireworks were going to be small and confined to a tight space near the stage. The big fireworks were going to be saved for the July 4th audience, he said.
Well, that’s enough about Steve.