To the Max: Collins breaks the acoustical mold

Max Collins
Michael's Bistro
Monday, June 9

Looking for something new, Monday evening I took a chance on Max Collins, an acoustic guitarist who appears weekly at Michael's Bistro. Earlier, while calling to confirm the show (If you're in the mood for supreme embarrassment, try showing up some Sunday for a "band" called Dead Night), an employee told me that people often call him "Air Max," and that yes, the gig would be going on as scheduled.

When I arrived, Collins was already in full-swing. Although the sound system muddied the music in too much bass, and feedback occasionally plagued him, he handled both with admirable equanimity. Surrounded by minimonoliths of amps, equipment, and musical gadgetry, he was pedal-hoppin' like a dinosaur, looping layers of guitar riffs over pre-recorded or makeshift percussion. I liked his creativity, and his willingness to experiment, but some of the effects he stacked on that Dagwood sandwich were a little too heavy, especially the single-note wahs (think of Charlie Brown's teacher lecturing, or Frampton's Talkbox intro in "Show Me the Way"). At best, the textural elements stood out as brief, hopeful reminders of instrumental interludes from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

After building up to a frenzy, Collins would stomp the pedal and kick out from the fade, segueing into a pleasant jangley acoustic song or two. The guitarist didn't suffer the stiffness of most young, amateur performers; he undulated during the heavy parts, danced over the keyboards, and fanned the audience with the neck of his guitar. When he sang, he did so with a clear, strong voice, although I did detect a little bit of a yarl (that throaty alternarock inflection); besides that minor offense, his rendition of John Cowan's "Wichita Way" was one of the best I've seen.

As the night wore on, his guitar continued to energize the waning audience; people bobbed their heads unconsciously in conversation, and tapped their fingers accordingly. On a few numbers, midway through his second wind, he received casual assistance on CD mixer percussion from "La-Z-Boy," whose skills reduced a techno time signature into molasses disco, and accelerated robotic German into a horse whinny.

If he keeps his mind open to variation and continues to soldier away at his technique, Max Collins has a fair amount of promise. Someday, I hope he moves to a more encouraging environment; hangin' too long on the Corner Bar circuit can be dangerous to one's musical health.