Guitarist Robin Trower electrified an enthusiastic packed house at the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill on Saturday, Sept. 19, evoking images and sounds of the distant 1970s golden age of classic rock. Trower, an underrated guitar ace, treated the assembled throng to a smörgåsbord of tasty guitar licks, intoxicating rhythm playing and intricate and sonically pleasing solo excursions.
Trower formed an early ’60s band, the Paramounts, which eventually contained keyboardist Gary Brooker, who later formed the classically influenced Procol Harum with lyricist Keith Reid. Trower was a part of their highly influential 1967 Bach-inspired hit “Whiter Shade of Pale,” but eventually grew restless and pursued a solo career in the early ‘70s, thus finding his own inner voice. His easily identifiable “crying,” emotion-filled guitar work, which drew countless comparisons to Jimi Hendrix’s work, stood on its own merit. The most famous incarnations of his numerous bands featured the late, great James Dewer on bass and vocals, and the brilliant Reg Isidore and Bill Lordan on drums at different points. The Isidore, Dewer and Trower combination produced the epic, brilliant sound scape of 1974’s “Bridge of Sighs,” a recording that ranks with the best classic-rock albums in history. Trower’s music evolved in 1977’s “In City Dreams” and brilliant collaborations with the aforementioned drummers and Cream bassist Jack Bruce on “BLT” (Lordan on drums) and “Truce” (Isidore manning the skins). He recently recorded “Seven Moons” (2008) with Bruce, and has released a DVD of their 18-date United Kingdom tour.
The evening began with the Tom Fuller duo who, despite clearly evident talent, had to deal with the crowd clamoring for Trower and his band. Fuller’s raspy yet pleasing voice and melodic guitar work shone through along with his backing vocalist and second guitarist James Wold.
The throng finally got what they wanted when the strains of Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” could be heard through the club’s speakers. Along with Davey Pattison (vocals), Pete Thompson (on drums, who was also once a member of Silverhead with Michael Des Barres) and Glen Letsch (bass), Trower hit the stage. Trower’s playing of his signature Stratocaster (red on this night) and Marshall amplifiers immediately captured the audience’s attention with the title track of his first solo album “Twice Removed from Yesterday.” The opening instrumental strains of this song conjured the spirit of the previously mentioned Hendrix, but clearly displayed a Trower stamp of originality. “Somebody Calling” enhanced the mood followed by the surreal sound of “For Earth Below.” It was immediately apparent that Trower displays the same command on his solos that he did in his ‘70s heyday. All the while, his rhythm section of Letsch and Thompson complemented the music perfectly without getting in the way.
The band hit its stride on “Shame the Devil,” with Trower’s tasteful wah-wah drenched solos, stirring vibrato, breathtaking trills, his trademark facial contortions and Pattison’s yeoman vocal styling. Pattison did not duplicate James Dewer’s one-of-a-kind voice, but he came close. A rock legend has a gravely ill James Dewer recommending Pattison as his eventual replacement.
“Time and Emotion” from the album “What Lies Beneath” (2009) had Trower in a blues mood employing innovative use of his foot pedals while mesmerizing the audience with stirring blues-based improvisation. On this night, every solo that Trower attempted outdid the one before.
The next section of the show featured three songs from the landmark “Bridge of Sighs” (1974) that put Trower on the map. “The Fool and Me,” “Day of the Eagle” and the title track were faithful to the original versions, with Trower going off on mind-bending solo tangents that clearly thrilled the crowd. Not many classic-rock fans realize that during the height of his popularity, Trower played Shea Stadium along with Jethro Tull and guitarist Rory Gallagher in 1976, joining Grand Funk and the Beatles as notable bands who had graced that stage up until then.
Trower’s sinuous lead playing is what the crowd was waiting for, and they got it in abundance. On the aforementioned “Bridge of Sighs” and “Victims of the Fury” (another title track) Trower was pulling out all the stops, and the smile on his face told the whole story. This ax man was clearly in his element and, in baseball terminology, has not lost anything on his fastball.
“Hannah,” a touching power ballad, provided a welcome change of pace. If any small complaint could be voiced on this wonderful night, it would be that Trower concentrated on up-tempo material and did not provide enough contrast by not playing mellow opuses like “Daydream” from his debut and “Bluebird” from “In City Dreams,” two wonderfully evocative songs.
The set closed with“Little Bit of Sympathy,”another stellar track from “Bridge of Sighs.” This song took this guitar maestro’s playing to another otherworldly level as the crowd rose in appreciation. His extended solo served as a lesson in how a few well-played notes can outdo “guitar gymnastics.” Trower’s effects-laden guitar work is tasteful, soulful and true.
The B.B. King’s crowd was satiated from the food served from “Lucille’s Grill” at this intimate concert venue, but had to have Trower back on stage. The band returned with a glowing Trower and Pattison thanking the crowd for its enthusiastic response. First up was “Too Rolling Stoned” another “Bridge” classic featuring a funky wah-wah rhythm, mind-blowing solo and a wonderful tempo shift. In addition, his use of sustained notes is first-rate. This 64-year-old rocker has aged like fine wine.
After a prolonged ovation by the adoring classic rockers in the crowd, Trower played “Another Time Another Place,” a hugely underrated track that ended the show with an extemporaneous, free-form guitar “trip” that took this crowd to a dimension of sight, sound and guitar magic.
A classic-rock dream come true is when revered rock gods from days of yore can still capture the glory of days past and thrill a crowd. Trower did this and more on this night. His brilliant guitar work and the band’s expert musicianship provided the audience with a rocking, satisfying night. Trower’s musical partnership with Jack Bruce sadly only produced a United Kingdom tour, but Trower will be playing venues on the East Coast until Oct. 3 (Pennsylvania), at which point the next leg of his tour will take him to Richmond, Virginia (Oct. 6), and ultimately to Fort Lauderdale, Florida (Oct. 18). Check out www.trowerpower.com for details. You will not be disappointed. Classic-rock guitar legends will not be around forever, so grab the opportunity to see an unsung ax slinger who gets better with age.
Photo by Nick Valente.