Shawn Phillips brought his "group" to the Cellar Door last night. The drums were mechanically perfect, never missing a beat. The bass was precisely on key and the guitars kept the pace nicely.
There was one catch to all this -- Shawn Phillips is a solo performer.
Armed with a battery of electronic gadgets, Phillips, who will also appear tonight, simulated the sound of a full-fledged band. He danced a nifty two-step on the synthesizer bass pedals during a heavy rock number while an electronic rhythm machine added catchy percussion accents. His voice and guitars were augmented by echo units, phasers, flangers and distortion and he even presented his imitation of a French horn.
Left to his own devices, however, Phillips is less than exciting. His songs are mostly mundane popfolk gibberish with predictable progressions and sappy vocals which espouse a kind of plastic romanticism. The wealth of noises and sound effects could not disguise his impoverished imagination and musical sensibilities.
Shawn Phillips is a modern, high-tech exponent of the time-honored, one-man band tradition. Perhaps next time he should try an older approach, with an old banjo, bass drums and cymbals strapped between his knees. The sound would be different, of course, and probably better.