Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers

    John Hanacek / Guardian

    Funny-man-turned-bluegrass-musician Steve Martin, and his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, performed at the Balboa Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 9. Martin, best known for his comedic sketches, is surprisingly genuine with a banjo — so genuine that his debut compilation of original music, The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo, won the 2010 Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album.

    The evening featured tracks from The Crow’s predominantly instrumental songs. Martin’s aptitude with the banjo (especially live) impressed bluegrass veterans and  newcomers, continually garnering praise from critics. Some notable ditties from his live set were the upbeat “Wally on the Run,” the humorously twangy “Rare Bird Alert” (from the soundtrack of Martin’s upcoming film, “The Big Year”) and the serenely Celtic “Calico Train.” Though the evening had a distinctly mature atmosphere — most audience members were well into their 30s and dressed to the nines — Martin’s running gags lightened the mood.  He stored beer inside bass player Charles Humphrey’s instrument, tweeted on stage from his iPad and compared his love of the banjo to Jerry Seinfeld taking up the bazooka. But it was the combination of the banjo and Martin’s running commentary between songs that made his two-hour foray into bluegrass worthwhile. To listeners’ delight, rather than treating the show as a strictly musical endeavor, Martin saw it as just another opportunity to entertain.

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