Monday, January 29, 2024

Tommy Emmanuel @ Olympia, Paris - January 29th, 2024

The legendary Chet Atkins was a pioneer in country guitar who would have marked his centenary this year and whose influence reverberates through the guitar mastery of renowned musicians like Mark Knopfler or Vince Gill. But only four guitarists hold the coveted title of Certified Guitar Player, a distinction personally bestowed by Atkins. Among the select few honored with the title is Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, who proudly showcases the coveted label on his albums and promotional material. Last night, the prestigious Olympia theater in Paris played host to Emmanuel's concert, where he not only lived up to the CGP distinction but surpassed all expectations. Describing his performance is a challenge, but words like exquisite, jaw-dropping, sensational, funny, and emotional come close to capturing the essence of an unforgettable evening.

Emmanuel's concert left a lasting impression not just for its jaw-dropping virtuosity and clever arrangements of beloved tunes, elements that might cater more to guitarists and musos. What truly captivated the diverse yet discerning audience was Emmanuel's unparalleled musicality. Whether delving into his original compositions or interpreting songs written and popularized by other musicians, he effortlessly taps into the core of each piece, extracting its essence. The ability to evoke profound emotions without relying on vocals and lyrics to carry the performance (except on rare occasion, including a completely a capella rendition of Jerry Reed's today is mine) is nothing short of miraculous, establishing Emmanuel as a master of musical expression.

Accompanied only by a dynamic and elegant light show, Emmanuel played for a little over 90 minutes, picking songs, quite literally, from his vast repertoire of folk, blues, ragtime, pop or rock. We'd be hard pressed to pick a highlight among what was essentially a succession of apotheosis but for personal reasons, his splendid reading of Over The Rainbow hit home in a particularly potent way. The bravura piece was probably the Beatles medley which seamlessly segued into Classical Gas, but his impromptu guitar duet with opener Clive Carroll on a few Irish tunes was also notable. As is looked like the evening was drawing to a close, the audience wasn't having any of it and loudly requested several encores, which Tommy Emmanuel was happy to oblige.

Adding a delightful layer to the performance, Emmanuel effortlessly weaves in a touch of humor and some cheeky showmanship, making it the icing on the cake. What propels him to such heights of excellence? How does he connect with each listener on a personal level? Certainly, talent, hard work, commitment, and an exhaustive number of practice hours play their roles. Yet, there's an intangible element at play—the moment when inspiration, the muse, channels through him, resonating with the souls of every individual in the audience. It's a phenomenon called grace.

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