Review: Daniel Lanois and Rocco DeLuca let the music do the talking at the Independent

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SAN FRANCISCO — Daniel Lanois music and concerts can veer into any number of directions, but if one thing holds true each time these days is his love for the pedal steel guitar. Wednesday at the Independent, Lanois and musical partner Rocco DeLuca shared the stage for an evening-long tribute to steel guitars; the hallmark of their 2016 duet album, Goodbye to Language.

“We thought of this as a way to investigate certain sound structures,” Lanois said later, as an introduction to the album’s second track, “Time On.”

The album is completely instrumental and its 12 songs flow from one to the next. They combine to create a singular body of work. Because that might not work as well in a live setting, the two broke up their setlist to include solo material by each artist, and introduced a new song.

Lanois and DeLuca sat facing each other; the former on the pedal steel and the latter at his lap steel guitar, and quietly began a piece from the album,  a mellow number that was extended to more than 10 minutes in length. It and the rest of their new material are difficult to describe. The songs were similar and unique at the same time. The first piece encapsulated the evening. The two patched together various dreamy soundscapes. They were usually smooth and liquid-like, but sometimes turned on a hairpin. Either way, the set induced a trance-like atmosphere.

The duo then performed “Buddha’s Hand,” a track Lanois and DeLucca wrote more recently, which Lanois previously told RIFF was some of his most wall-busting material yet. DeLuca handled the lyrics on this song and over most of the other tunes that included them. It would be an hour before Lanois sung a word.

Toward the end of the set, Lanois performed one of his best-known solo songs, “The Maker,” off 1994 album Cool Water. It was as close to a crescendo as this show would get. That was intentional, as the goal was not to get worked up but to share a communal experience. That message was communicated with set closer “Congregate,” a DeLucca song which the two performed loosely like street buskers, with Lanois seemingly improvising on guitar and DeLuca singing, sometimes not minding the microphone.

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