Just call him Dr. Guest

A review of “Christopher Guest Meets Berklee” at the Berklee Performance Center on November 30, 2007

, Editor-in-Chief

Doctor Christopher Guest? Sounds odd huh, but after Boston’s Berklee College of Music awarded the comedian with an honorary doctorate on Friday night, such is the case. Even Guest himself pondered the decision, admitting that "up until an hour ago, I thought this was a practical joke" at Friday’s ceremony. However, in truth, the award was fitting for the Grammy-award winner, who famously wrote and starred in what has become a film of biblical importance to all rock musicians, This Is Spinal Tap.&

After accepting the college’s honorary doctorate from Berklee\\\’s president, Roger H. Brown, Guest joined students and faculty for an impressive performance. The concert portion, entitled “These Go to 11: Christopher Guest Meets Berklee", included interpretations of music that spanned Guest\\\’s cinematic career, including films A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman, and, of course, This Is Spinal Tap.

Following a video highlight reel of his best film moments, Guest took center stage alongside the Berklee band for “Tonight I\\\’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” with student Owen McGreehan holding down the vocals. Another Spinal Tap favorite “(Listen to the) Flower People” followed, but it was the rendition of “Old Joe’s Place” that brought the evening’s most laughs from the sold out crowd.

For “Skeletons of Quinto”, a tune by the fictitious “The Folksmen” in A Mighty Wind, the Berklee performers stripped out the lyrics and performed it entirely as an instrumental piece. With a unique Latin-inspired flair, the song was enhanced by solos from faculty members Jim Kelly on guitar and Jim Odgren on electric guitar and saxophone. The mini-orchestra performed on all cylinders throughout the evening, moving from epic rock anthem to classical instrumentals, powered by everything from strings to horns. "Cups and Cakes" was just another example of their stunning flair and exceptional talent.

Hearing the Rolling Stone’s “Start Me Up” performed as folk tune with Guest on the mandolin (just as it was done in A Mighty Wind) was undeniably entertaining. The student singers also made good on their opportunity under the spotlight. Rebecca Muir shined brightly on "Gimme Some Money", which was aided by an impressive horn section. Equally impressive was “A Penny for Your Thoughts” with Grace Taylor and Kevin Ross singing a duet that sounded as if they were musical veterans. McGreehan played the role of Spinal Tap’s David St. Hubbins while Jennifer Hirsh hit it right with "Nothing Ever Happens In Blaine" from Waiting for Guffman.

Guest took part in the majority of the show, delivering mostly with his rhythm guitar. While not playing or making funny faces, he smiled in genuine approval of the band’s interpretations of his music. The performance was sporadically broken up with video tributes from esteemed musicians like Steve Vai, Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton, and Elvis Costello, who even sang “A Penny for Your Thoughts” on his acoustic guitar in tribute to Guest.

Fans roared in approval as Guest sang and switched from the electric guitar to the mandolin for the mock epic "Stonehenge". It was the highlight of the night for most attendees, just as Nigel Tufnel would have hoped. It continued through a rocking rendition "Hell Hole" before the show closer, “Big Bottom”. The classic Spinal Tap tune featured nearly every bassist on the Berklee campus crowding the aisles to join in on the fun, just as President Roger Brown did by pounding on the drums.

Guest now joins an esteemed list of honorary doctorates from Berklee, including Bonnie Rait, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, and most recently U2’s The Edge and Gloria Estefan. It may seem like a case of “one of these is not like the other”, but on Friday night Berklee proved that Guest’s addition was worthwhile. And hey, who would argue with Dr. Nigel Tufnel?

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