Al Di Meola’s Elysium & More Unplugged tour touches down in London for four sold-out performances over two nights at Ronnie Scott’s.
Unlike his recent Elegant Gypsy gigs that featured Di Meola with a quintet, this time it’s just the main attraction himself, joined by Italian guitarist Peo Alfonsi and Hungarian-born, Berklee-trained drummer and percussionist Peter Kaszas.
Di Meola rose to prominence as a fusion guitar hero in Return To Forever, and his latest album, Elysium, features both acoustic and electric instruments. But tonight is strictly acoustic, with Di Meola shining the spotlight on his flamenco and tango influences. That said, there’s a distortion pedal somewhere behind Di Meola’s music stand so he can add some bite to his tone as the mood takes him.
They open with the album’s first song, Adour, and it doesn’t take long for the guitarist to unleash his dazzling technique with dramatic, high-speed flourishes. It’s a tough gig for Kaszas – even with his drums set up behind acrylic sound barriers, he still has to play with control and finesse or risk smothering the acoustic guitars. But he rises to the occasion, seamlessly switching between brushes and sticks, or drum kit and hand percussion, from passage to passage, without missing a beat.
Di Meola is certainly an artist who treats his music seriously, but he takes himself much more lightly. When he misfires at the outset of Stephanie, he looks at Alfonsi, who didn’t join in, with a big grin, saying, “You knew right away I was playing in the wrong key, didn’t you? Just checking.”
As if the level of musicianship wasn’t already outrageously high, he announces, “Now we’d like to do a difficult piece,” before the elegant Turquoise from 2006’s Consequence Of Chaos.
Despite the acoustic presentation, Di Meola still shows his fusion roots by always playing with a pick. There’s none of the finger strumming of the classical flamenco style, and when he wants to reach top speed, he unchains his inner shred demon. That’s by no means a criticism – Di Meola brings energy and expression to the guitar and if he was playing pure flamenco, it wouldn’t really be fusion (or belong here in Prog).
For the encore, he dusts off Mediterranean Sunrise, the duet he originally recorded with Paco De Lucia on 1977’s Elegant Gypsy album. Enraptured, the crowd clap along as the two virtuoso guitarists fly up and down the frets. It’s always a treat to watch masters at work.