Veteran guitarist Wayne Riker is one of those cats who can play convincingly in almost any style, from folkish finger-picking to blues, rock and jazz, and his Oct. 5 one-man Beatles from A to Z show at the Moxie Theatre was an amazing hour of nonstop tunes arranged and improvised for solo guitar.
The concept is unique: Riker plays a Beatles tune to accompany each letter of the alphabet (except Q). Thus the set list began with “A Day in the Life” -- performed flat-picked with his stomping left foot as a metronome -- and ended with the creatively spelled “Zgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” In between there was a reharmonized and reimagined take on “Blackbird” and a grungy Drop D steer through “Come Together,” which seamlessly segued into “Day Tripper” and then into a modal “Eleanor Rigby.”
Riker played slide-guitar on “Get Back,” and “Here Comes the Sun” toggled between delicate finger-style and reggae adaptations. He got jazzy somewhere between “Michelle” and “Penny Lane,” channeling Joe Pass on one and a wild Tal Farlow on the next, with a stop into Indian raga style for “Norwegian Wood.”
Only the campy “Octopus's Garden” (where Riker summoned an audience sing-along) fell short. Meanwhile, there were more chords than you could shake the proverbial stick at in “Strawberry Fields Forever” -- a high point that touched on bebop virtuosity -- and the blues-meets-flamenco drama of “When I’m Sixty-Four” somehow conjured images of both George Van Eps and Paco de Lucía.
Arranging each of these tunes for solo guitar is no mean feat, especially when one must somehow blend melody, harmony and rhythm into a cogent whole that allows the listener to remember the original tunes. Playing them back to back and shifting from one to another for more than an hour is impressive on many different levels.
Riker is working on getting this one-man-show into a regular rotation around San Diego, so if you’re into the Beatles -- or the state of the guitar -- you just may have another chance to check it out.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.