Onstage camaraderie backed by serious classical guitar chops made for a fun musical adventure Wednesday night as the Montreal Guitar Trio played one of Las Vegas’ best-kept secrets: Doc Rando Recital Hall.
The concert venue on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus is a 300-seater inside the Beam Music Center, a 12-year-old building on Maryland Parkway that still looks fairly new. All dozen or so rows of 25 comfy auditorium seats provide well-lit views of the polished wood stage, which features a 3,000-pipe organ parked at the back.
On this night, the organ was silent as Marc Morin, Sebastien Dufour and Glenn Levesque filled the air with much more than a traditional guitar trio. Yes, they can wail up a flamenco-style storm on their custom 12-string guitars. But when Dufour whips out a charango (a Bolivian instrument that he told us was like a regular guitar someone threw in the dryer), Levesque a mandolin and Morin an electric bass, we’ve just had our musical passports stamped for parts unknown.
Most of the world tour had a decidedly south-of-the-border or Spanish flavor, starting with the opening number, “El Paso,” which is based on Ennio Morricone’s “The Man with the Harmonica” from the epic spaghetti Western “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Flashy and fun with knowing nods and plenty of smiles among the players.
They all let on to being suckers for Morricone, and next, we were treated to a medley of the Italian composer’s “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Mexican,” a Morricone-inspired tune by ’70s British rockers Babe Ruth.
Levesque then guided us through a couple of his original compositions, “Marikero,” a romantic romp with nonsense lyrics (a nod, perhaps, to the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil), and “Breizh Tango,” a perky mandolin ode that almost had us dancing in our seats. Nice tenor voice, too.
After intermission, Morin could have passed off a funk-infused “Barber of Seville” overture as a tribute to the group’s classical roots. Instead, he offered a confession shared by many of us: It’s Bugs Bunny’s fault!
Getting serious for a moment, the MG3 (as they call themselves) shared their concern for the victims of the 2010 earthquake that shook Haiti to its core, noting that their hometown has a large Haitian community. In “5 Minutes for Haiti,” composer Levesque threaded a knitting needle in and out of his strings near the top of his fret board, giving us a musical taste of the troubled nation in an optimistic tune.
A surreal interpretation of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” brought gasps of admiration as Levesque’s singing stayed true to the lyrics.
They closed out with a tribute to the people who live in some of the coldest places on the planet in “Le Peuple Des Glaces” (The Ice People) and the raga-flavored “Garam Masala,” before a standing ovation brought them out for a twisted version of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” Morin used a tiny accordion for the melody, while Levesque pretended he wasn’t whistling, and all three launched guttural screams in all the right places to send us home more than satisfied.
Morin chuckled that there must be a coincidental tick of the cosmic clock in the timing of their Las Vegas appearances, noting that when they last played here five years ago it was the day Barack Obama was elected president and that on this concert date a new Pope was chosen.
Who knows what will happen the next time they appear in Vegas.