I like the band Polyphia, and their piece "G.O.A.T" is nothing short of brilliant. I was completely blown away by that song when I first heard it a couple years ago. (And I loved Rick Beato's break down on that piece, but then I'm a huge fan of Rick Beato anyway.)
One of Polyphia's guitarists, Tim Henson, does some amazing things technically and musically that I've never heard before and never personally considered when playing the guitar. I have mentioned in other musings that I rate musicians on the TOAD scale, where TOAD is Talent, Originality, Affect, and Durability. Watching Henson play guitar, it's abundantly clear that he has Talent and Originality oozing out of every pore. While his Affect on other players remains to be seen, I think that Durability within the industry is quite likely.
With that in mind, I was interested when some of the musicians that I know posted a video from Henson that was titled "Playing my new guitar." Several people made comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, which I assumed was due to Henson's arsenal of innovative techniques. Without forcing you to suffer through more of my descriptive rhetoric, here is the video in question.
Regardless of my feelings for Polyphia, my final opinion for Henson's "playing my new guitar" video was... yawn. Don't get me wrong - for the first 30 seconds or so I was amazed, as I was the first time that I heard Polyphia. But let's be honest - after the first minute of Henson's "new guitar" video, you've heard pretty much everything you're going to hear. The rest of it is just the same thing, over and over, ad nauseum.
Yes - Henson's technique is amazing. Yes - his chops are off the map. And yes - I'm a guitar player who can't play what he plays, but to be clear - my comments are not coming from a position of "I can't do that so I'm just lashing out." On the contrary, Henson's "new guitar" video is almost nine minutes of unstructured, semi-repetitive guitar ramblings that wears itself out long before the conclusion of video.
In a way, Henson's video reminded me of why I dislike a lot of Yngwie Malmsteen's playing. Oh sure, Yngwie is one of the fastest guitar players alive, but that's precisely his problem - eventually an overabundance of self-aggrandizing displays of technical wizardry begin to devolve into a murky sludgefest of technically proficient ear slime. In that sense, I don't like some people's comparisons of Henson to Hendrix, because Hendrix wasn't just an innovator - he was a songwriter. (Though Hendrix often descended into his own pools of ear slime, too.) Henson's video, on the other hand, falls far short of "songwriting"; after the first few minutes, it starts to sound like... noise.
While I realize that art is always in the eye (or ear) of the beholder, in my opinion there's more to music than nine chaotic minutes of slapping the crap out of a guitar. To be clear, I listen to a lot of music that's all over the place from a structure point of view, but there should be SOME sense of where a piece going. And if there's no direction, then a piece has to evolve. I've seen Eddie Van Halen perform a 12-minute solo, and it was entertaining for every minute of it - because Eddie moved on from idea to idea.
Think of Jazz for a moment. I've heard some phenomenal Jazz soloists take off on tangents of technical brilliance that filled long passages of time, but those soloists are usually backed by something underneath that gives it meaning - and quite often one soloist passes off to another, but the underlying essence is there, however veiled it may be. As an example, consider Al Di Meola's "Mediterranean Sundance"; there are technical chops to spare, plenty of guitars getting slapped around, and no shortage of chaos when necessary. However, there's far more to see and hear than what you'll see in Henson's video.
Taking this discussion closer to Henson's "new guitar" video, I've gone to see some brilliant fingerstyle guitar players, and Leo Kottke initially comes to mind. I often think there's something wrong with the way Kottke thinks, because his pieces are underscored by a tumultuous maelstrom of mismatched time and key signatures with brilliant displays of technical prowess soaring over top. For that matter, I would find Antoine Dufour's "Déjà Vu" from several years ago or Andy McKee's "Drifting" from 15 years ago far more entertaining than Henson's video; both of those guitarists were using a lot of the same skills and ideas that Henson was manifesting, without managing to get on my nerves or bore me to tears.
So my apologies to my friends who posted the link to Henson's "playing my new guitar video" - I certainly didn't mean to rain on their parade. But Henson's video reminds me of what a music critic once said was wrong with Emerson, Lake and Palmer when they entered the studio: they desperately needed someone else to tell them when enough was enough. If Henson trimmed his "my new guitar" down to 60 seconds and dropped an intro & outro on it, I'd have been far more impressed.
PS - My sincere apologies to Tim Henson. If you ever read this, I still think you're great - even though I didn't like your "new guitar" video.