Concert review: I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus – or was it Joel

Guitarist Joel Paterson performs a variety of popular Christmas songs Dec. 10 at Evanston SPACE. Credit: Jeremy Damato

Western swing guitar man extraordinaire Joel Paterson took the stage Friday night to a packed house for a sold-out show at Evanston SPACE.

Twinkling antlers and blinking bulbs lit the cozy Christmas sweater-clad room as the dapper guitarist took up his golden axe for a great night of swinging holiday music. The stage was decorated retro Candy Cane Lane, complete with a giant peppermint blow-mold, snowy North Pole sign and a nicely decorated tree with gifts wrapped beneath it. A snug buzz was in the air as the audience settled in for a festive set of holiday tunes.

“I’m going to make you WANT to hear some Christmas songs,” Paterson started in, with a laugh that got the room going after opening with a snappy, up-tempo rendition of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.

Paterson plays in the western swing tradition but incorporates a variety of intricate guitar-picking styles. Credit: Jeremy Damato

Next was a bluesy and playful take on I’ll Be Home For Christmas. As Paterson tapped and splashed through a magic bag of vibrating Hi-Fi tones, the harmonics flashed like frosted elements in crisp air and the warm electric tubes zoomed like Kris Kringle UFOs in the sky of a Silent Night blizzard.

Dipping the neck of the guitar with his monogrammed strap slung around his shoulder like a midcentury troubadour on a late night special, Paterson spread out the musical feast like a bountiful platter of goose. Picking and strumming along, the melodies glided effortlessly with the speed and spark of a whip-fast toboggan down a nice hill of fresh powdered snow.

Paterson weaves the notes and chords of his guitar together with all the sweetness and precision of an agile ribbon-candy operator on an assembly line: Highly accurate and looking effortless. Doling out just the right amount of dazzle with each portion for maximum enjoyment.

Down the list of popular favorites, from Blue Christmas to Jingle Bells, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, all the way to Mele Kalikimaka and back, Paterson put his signature on the numbers. Playing in the western swing tradition but also incorporating a variety of intricate guitar-picking styles that hearken back as far as the 1920s, to the blues and earlier ragtime rhythms, Paterson creates certified guitar magic and it’s a sheer joy to see and hear.

Paterson put his signature on an assortment of Christmas songs at his sold-out concert Saturday at Evanston SPACE. Credit: Jeremy Damato

From your rush-hour-weary Lite FM listener to the most discerning and hardcore of guitar aficionados there’s a nifty little something in each stocking for everybody. Virtuosic and illustrative, the tunes jump to life with a touch of the blues and expert deft styling from surf to swing.

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