Legendary American guitarist and composer Marc Ribot, who has shared his genius by contributing to albums by artists such as Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Allen Ginsberg, played to a packed house at Cafe Oto last Friday, as part of his two day residency in the tiny Dalston venue.
Ribot’s personal work has spanned genres and his influence almost certainly reaches far wider than you may think. This residency was a rare and special opportunity to see him perform alone.
For the hardcore music fan, the show was something of a spiritual experience, as Ribot does not often perform in England. In fact, even the arrangement of the room seemed to suggest more of an altar than a stage.
For those new to his work (few and far between, based on audience reaction) it was a wonderfully immersive, if slightly intense, experience as Ribot performed unaccompanied and sang only occasionally.
By the end of the first half there were more than a few misty-eyed members of the crowd. A few of the songs he performed had a slightly mournful sound, though the tears were more likely induced by the slightly overwhelming environment and being in the presence of someone who, to some people, is one of the greatest living guitar players.
Ribot’s acoustic guitar did not even seem to be amplified a great deal which gave his performance a very personal atmosphere – Oto was the perfect choice for the show. While Ribot could have filled a much larger space with ease (both in terms of his presence and audience numbers) the intimacy and simplicity of the stripped back set allowed his immense talent to absorb the audience. It was the first concert I have attended in a long time where there is a respectful silent pause after the end of each song before the eruption of applause.
His passion for music was evident as he played homage to the musical melting pot that is Americana while weaving in his own signature touches. The pieces he performed were an excellent tribute to the varied traditions and cultures that have historically made America and its music so great, something it was a pleasure to be reminded of at a time where Americans – Ribot evidently included – are understandably anxious about the future of their rich and diverse cultural identity.
Arguably the most poignant moment was when Ribot played ‘El Fusil Del Poeta Es Una Rosa’ (The Poet’s Gun is a Rose) by Chabuca Granda. This performance seemed to perfectly encapsulate the gentle sentiments of a man who worships music almost as much as his fans worship him.
Marc Ribot may not be a name most know, but it absolutely should be. It is not something I would recommend missing – if he ever performs in London again./ 16 May, 2017