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String wizard David Lindley astounds at Polsky Theatre

The indelicate sensibility of the instrumental master David Lindley — who is best known for his work with Jackson Browne but also contributed to dozens of recording sessions for other stars — amused a refined audience of about 250 on Saturday night at Polsky Theatre on the campus of Johnson County Community College.
The indelicate sensibility of the instrumental master David Lindley — who is best known for his work with Jackson Browne but also contributed to dozens of recording sessions for other stars — amused a refined audience of about 250 on Saturday night at Polsky Theatre on the campus of Johnson County Community College. Todd Paris

The indelicate sensibility of instrumental master David Lindley amused a refined audience of about 250 at Polsky Theatre on the campus of Johnson County Community College on Saturday.

After opening the concert with a spunky version of his friend Bonnie Raitt’s “About to Make Me Leave Home,” Lindley suggested that he had sullied his guitar.

“I got to drooling there,” he said. “I know it’s going to be good when I get to drooling.”

Lindley’s occasional accounts of unsavory bodily functions enhanced his excellent performance.

Seated within arm’s reach of a rack of five stringed instruments, Lindley exhibited his earthy sense of humor and astounding instrumental prowess in an hour-and-45-minute solo show (not including intermission).

Lindley, 71, is best known for embellishing many of the most popular songs of Jackson Browne, but he has also contributed to dozens of recording sessions for other stars.

He recalled a formative job with a bluegrass ensemble at Disneyland in the early 1960s.

“I was making money playing five-string banjo at Disneyland and I knew Walt Disney,” he said. “I was impressed and so was my mother.”

Lindley has spent much of the past two decades burnishing his reputation as an eccentric minstrel. Saturday’s show featured a wide range of material that reflected his interest in music from around the globe.

Although his voice is as plain as his playing is florid, Lindley is fully capable of selling a song. His captivating rendition of the traditional murder ballad “Pretty Polly” was terrifying. The comic song “Meatgrinder Blues” was served with a spicy side of social commentary.

Renditions of two Warren Zevon compositions — the existential “The Indifference of Heaven” and the somber elegy “Mutineer” — were wrenching.

His global explorations were just as compelling. He rendered the vintage staple “Minglewood Blues” with an oud and demonstrated different musical modalities before interpreting “The Cuckoo.”

“Here they’re stinky notes,” he explained. “But all over the Middle East they’re the most natural things in the world.”

His singing in English aside, Lindley’s version of the centuries-old “The Cuckoo” probably wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Beirut 500 years ago.

Lindley frequently dropped the names of associates including Eric Clapton and Ry Cooder. Saturday’s outing provided further proof that Lindley continues to be just as capable of entertaining audiences as his more famous friends.

Set list

About To Make Me Leave Home; Meatgrinder Blues; Pretty Polly; The Indifference of Heaven; Minglewood Blues; Well, Well, Well; The Cuckoo; Mutineer; The Johnson Boys; Mercury Blues; No Use Complaining.

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