Monte Montgomery at Jim Porter's, March 23, 2000

By Michael Campbell

"Thanks to both of you for coming." Austin-based Monte Montgomery seemed somewhat incredulous at the turnout of 2530 people that comprised the evening's audience. Me, too. So if you weren't one of those fortunate few, you missed the most important guitar performance Louisville has seen in years.

From the first note, this trio churned efficient, effervescent power pop with all the goodies: crisp rhythm, taut arrangements and on-the-money backup vocals. Drummer Phil Bass, who navigated complex time signatures with much grace and little strain along with Lonnie Trevino, whose bass work retained melodic sense even when popping, expertly supported Montgomery. Like the playing, most of the song structures were cliché-free, flirting with plenty of ninth and complex minor chords. And amazingly, some of the songs have the kind of staying power that stick the day after.

From his latest Heart Music release, Mirror, Montgomery performed the plaintive "Hopin' That You'd Slow Down." "When Will I" began as a reggae romp, with adventures into flamenco technique, furious double-stopping and harmonic-bending neck pulls.

Montgomery's guitar soloing is the attention-grabber here. Simply put, Montgomery does not play like anyone else. It is a convergence of technology, technique and inexhaustible inspiration. You don't hear familiar blues licks or war-horse rock riffs. His approach is original, lyrical, dynamic and ferocious.

A unique aspect to his sound is the use of a well-worn, single-cutaway Alvarez-Yairi guitar plugged into a an ART preamp, an Boss CS2 compressor and an Ibanez Tube Screamer going into a Trace Elliot amplifier. The guitar sometimes sounds like an acoustic is expected to sound; other times it captures the howl of Hendrix with the warmth of Santana tones and sustain, along with that acoustic flavor. Usually, heavily pre-amped acoustic guitars are feedback nightmares, but Montgomery knows the edge of that envelope very well and revels in stomping it.

All these elements began to gel on "All On Me," a rich melody with pop sensibilities, and a major-to-minor chord change that provided a sweet hook for the vocal, as well as a complement for guitar improvisation.

Nurtured by music and tequila, the band-to-audience bond strengthened as the night progressed, with a detour from intensity by way of the evening's only covers: "Stairway to Freebird," Montgomery's frightening classic rock mutation, and the Commodore's "Easy," in which this three-piece ensemble left nothing on the table. It was all there.

Just like you should've been.