There I was, sitting in my chair at the Long Center on Tuesday evening, mentally composing my review of Steve Martin’s and the Steep Canyon Rangers’ performance, as comfy as Rory McIlroy sitting on a fat lead at the British Open, when Martin blew up my story with three little words: “Mr. Paul Simon.”
Perhaps it should not have been such a surprise — Edie Brickell, who also goes by the title Mrs. Paul Simon, was touring with Martin in support of their Grammy-winning album, “Love Has Come For You” — but to the best of my knowledge it was the first time Simon has set foot on an Austin-area stage since at least 2011.
It was great fun to watch Simon, one of his generation’s finest song craftsmen, and pop song thrush Brickell step out of character to sing a hoary old Conway ‘n’ Loretta duet, “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” and Ernest Tubb’s timelessly elegant “Waltz Across Texas.”
“C’mon Paul,” Dallas native Brickell teased her Yankee born-and-bred hubby. “Sweet tea. People say ‘hi’ to you in the grocery store. We should buy a place down here …”
“Sorry,” he replied facetiously, “I wasn’t listening.”
Simon’s cameo was a dead-solid treat, but the remainder of the evening belonged to Martin, Brickell and the rock-solid ensemble work of the Steep Canyon Rangers.
Anyone with the attention span of a gnat knows by now that Martin takes his lifelong musical avocation very seriously, but he takes pains to leaven his musical concerts with bits of the bone-dry schtick he’s famous for. “We’re the last act of South By Southwest,” he said near the outset, adding later (noting the incongruity of a comedian playing bluegrass), “Yo-Yo Ma is currently filming ‘Cheaper By the Dozen 3’” and, alluding to the Rangers, “They aren’t my backup band; I’m their celebrity.”
Funny stuff, and a nice counterpoint to the music, which was crisp, vibrant and delivered with aplomb. “Jubilation Day” (an improbably upbeat song about a romantic breakup), Martin’s warm, Irish-flavored solo number “Gentleman Peter” and the runaway breakdown of “Auden’s Train” and “Pretty Little One” were all standouts.
Brickell, in her co-starring role, was a revelation to this listener — her voice was as warm, enveloping and welcome as a cloak on a cold night. Curling her southern lilt around wonderful lines like, “When you get to Asheville/Send me an e-mail” and the title track to her and Martin’s album, “Love Has Come For You,” she was a wonderful counterpoint to Martin’s humor and the band’s fleet-fingered instrumental prowess. (Brickell, it should be noted here, composed all of the album’s lyrics.)
At various points she made the show her own, be it jumping into — in the best bluegrass tradition — an uptempo dead-baby song (“Yes She Did”) or softly knocking the audience dead with the resonant, haunting encore number, “Remember Me This Way.”
Brickell and Martin are also collaborating on a musical, “Bright Star,” which is set to open in San Diego in September. That’s good news for music fans — judging by Tuesday’s Austin performance, this is a partnership that deserves to endure.