Daniel Lanois’ “Silvio” Project

On February 3rd, 2006, the New York Guitar Festival brought Daniel Lanois to Carnegie Hall to present his music and experimental film images. It was a magical performance — one of the festival’s highlights — and sold out weeks in advance. Below is a review that ran in the NY Press.


February 8, 2006 
By George Chevalier 

Mega-producer (Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, U2 and Emmylou Harris, for starters) Daniel Lanois’ show at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall was a study in grooving, or the art of finding a bodacious groove and hanging in it, inhabiting it and communicating it. 

And doing it in a most familiar, well-referenced way: drummer hammering a slow, funky back beat; bass boomy, stentorian and utterly unembellished; second guitar in lock step with the rest of the rhythm section as Lanois’ lead, spiced with feedback and harmonics, played laconic parts assertively above it all. All this, appropriately enough for a show produced in partnership with the New York Guitar Festival, in guitar players’ keys—that is to say G, E, C—open string keys. If this all sounds at tad like CCR playing “Born On the Bayou” or a long version of “Suzie Q” you’re going in the right direction—there certainly was a palpable ’60s vibe to all this, more than a little enhanced by the guitars and amps: a Les Paul (Lanois’) and a Strat (Jim Wilson’s) going through a brace of a Vox Viscounts. And if that was too oblique, Lanois’ film Silvio was projected behind the band, with repeated images of ’60s suburbia, replete with woodgrain-sided Country Squires and tightly-clustered housing developments. 

But CCR was intrinsically a blues band and Lanois’ band is not. Tightly-meshed three-part harmonies over rhythmic open-string chords quote different antecedents, i.e. the folk-rock of the Byrds or Buffalo Springfield. 

With an Iron Butterfly rhythm section, Lanois is quite a conjurer, though—his co-production with ambient music pioneer Brian Eno of U2’s “The Joshua Tree” sold 10,000,000 copies in the U.S. alone—notwithstanding the Grammies and Grammy nominations he gained both as a producer and solo artist. He managed to keep pulling the most scrumptious rabbits out of his hat—like a Cajun chef with an unerring instinct for rescuing a dish from blandness with a judicious injection of spices. Just when it seemed the dish was perfected—and certainly the audience was delighted with it—new ingredients re-invented it. Just when we were convinced that the garage had met the swamp, the “horn” section was introduced: vocalist Lori Anna Reid—stunning and statuesque in a little black dress—and trumpetist Antoine Drye, tightly knit and ensemble in thirds, with Reid singing a horn part. 

Here, on “Bella Donna” rudimentary melodicism was forsaken, and a haunting chromaticism reared its head, evocative at times of both mariachi bands and “Miserlou.” Meanwhile Lanois managed to play a liquid and vibrant pedal steel without, somehow, making it sound country or Hawaiian. 

For this most august venue there was a refreshingly ad hoc feeling to this performance—as though a popular bar band had rented the hall for the night for its legion of fans. Lanois would call directions to the players (“To the chorus!”) and confess he had just done a tune a certain way for the first time—but he is, after all, an enormously successful arranger, a calling that mandates constant altering on the mix. There also is quite a boy-next-door charm to Lanois’ stage persona, treating the audience as close old friends. 

Which is the sense projected from the feelings within the band, a sense of old friends jamming for the sheer fun of it. Virtuoistic pyrotechnics were eschewed for a comfortable colloquy, no fast dazzling runs, no prima-donna vocal feats. Guitarist Wilson stayed locked in that tasty groove, keeping it simple and sweet, while bass player Marcus Blake stayed as one with the root of the chord, and did not even play the ubiquitous fifths. 

But drummer Brian Blade was transcendentally brilliant, both for appropriateness, taste and technical brilliance that even Lanois quipped, “See, that tom-tom roll alone was worth the price of admission.” 

The crowd treated a guest appearance by Emmylou Harris as the Second Coming. Sure she looked stunning and has a fine voice, but she’s very much a first semester guitar player. The hot spot, though was an appearance by the incandescent and hyperkinetic dancer Carolina Cerisola, whose explosive performance sizzled like a Memphis barbecue. 

In the end, a listener thinks of the KISS principle in this comfortable and familiar performance. Lanois, clearly a fertile cornucopia of themes and ideas, chose to leave the frills off and keep it simple. Reminiscent of something else from the ’60s—the Volkswagen: simple, economical, reliable, un-frilly, un-showy, and full of mystique. Also like Lanois, it serves as transportation, and will develop into a cult following in the process. 


To learn more about Daniel Lanois and his music, please visit:


Photos 1 – 9 by Jim McCarthy ( All others by Glyn Emmerson and David Spelman.

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Left to right: Brian Blade, Daniel Lanois, Marcus Blake and Jim Wilson. 
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Dancer Carolina Cerisola joins the action on stage. 
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Emmylou Harris, who happened to be in New York for Fashion Week, made a surprise appearance. 
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Lanois and Lori Anna Reid sing “Thank You”. 
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Making absolutely sure Emmylou’s guitar is in tune. 
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Adam Samuels and Adam Volnick go over last minute tech issues with Lanois. 
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WNYC’s John Schaefer interviews Lanois at the begining of the concert. 
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Vocal harmony rehearsals at the Chelsea Hotel. 
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