Reviewing the Grammy-winningBill Harley in concert seems a little bit like reviewing Bruce Springsteen. He's been playing shows for so long -- thirty-plus years, as he noted early on in his show this weekend at Phoenix's Musical Instrument Museum -- that his proficiency at doing his thing live isn't questioned at all, and trying to find new things to say about songs your family may have heard dozens of times before can prove vexing.
Better, then, for the reviewer, to try to find new things to appreciate, like Harley's nifty guitarwork on "Down in the Backpack." Or his commitment to being in the moment -- always a good thing as a parent to being reminded of -- such as his decision to turn his guitar into a mbira of sorts for the Ghanian song "Tuuweh" (poor spelling entirely my fault), rarely performed by Harley. Or even his ability, physicially, to make himself appear small when necessary so as to make himself more credible as a kid-sized narrator.
The set list focused more on Harley's classics, such as his long story "Teachers' Lounge," "Pea on My Plate," and "Is Not Is Too." He wrapped up the show with "Somos El Barco," recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary, among others. I would've been happy to have Harley extend his 75-minute set a little bit longer, but it's probably a good length for the younger folks in the crowd. As with any good storyteller, Harley's gift of being able to communicate -- listen and share -- with others is best experienced live. A fun time.
By the way, here's my recap of Harley at Kindiefest. And while I don't have any video from the MIM, here's Harley at Kindiefest performing "Pea on My Plate," which he also did here in Phoenix.
Disclosure: I was provided tickets for the show. Photo of Bill Harley at Cincinnati Playhouse by Thom Luce.