It was early, maybe half an hour before Bill Frisell was set to arrive for his Tiny Desk Concert.
Already, a crowd here at NPR was buzzing around, waiting to hear Frisell make his magic and watching him set up an array of pedals. I've never seen anyone play guitar the way Frisell plays: What I hear is a man on a mission of discovery, where one chord, one note, one effect can send him in unplanned, uncharted directions.
My palms felt sweaty the first time I saw him play. I know the stomp boxes he uses to make his loops — one of which is an Electro-Harmonix 16-second delay, a pedal I used to use in live performance in the 1980s. I know how fragile and sometimes unpredictable it can be, but it's the backbone of Frisell's bag of many tricks. With that equipment enhancing Frisell's nimble, deft fingerwork and uncanny sense of melody, it all adds up to a brilliant and disarmingly humble performer.
On this day, Frisell came to perform the music of John Lennon. Now 60, Frisell witnessed the birth of The Beatles and all that it meant to moving the world from cute, catchy songs to sonic adventures — a world of music we don't think twice about anymore. After all these years of hearing The Beatles' music, he's still discovering it, finding small phrases in the songs we know so well — "Nowhere Man," "In My Life" and "Strawberry Fields Forever."
And here comes the cliche, which is a living truth: Frisell makes these songs feel new again. I only wish Lennon himself could have heard his music through Frisell's beautiful reinventions.
Set List: "Nowhere Man" "In My Life" "Strawberry Fields Forever"
Credits: Producer and Editor: Bob Boilen; Videographer: Cristina Fletes; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; photo by: Mallory Benedict/NPR