Everything about tonight is a reminder of a bygone era. From the venue – a good old fashioned town hall with a cranked-up PA and ridiculous volume levels – to the whippersnapper support band Stevie Nimmo and a frisky London crowd, this feels like a flashback to how things used to be.
Not that Robin Trower deals in nostalgia. He’s a master craftsman with a unique enduring guitar style that stands out among a legion of shredders, for who light and shade and tonal variety is an anathema.
The quality of his solos is everything, as evidenced by new songs such as ‘Where You Are Going To’, on which he reminds us just why he remains such a pivotal figure in the rock/blues world.
In many ways, Trower is an object lesson in what Jimi Hendrix might have become in the autumn of his career, had he survived. Trower is a tone master for who a solo is the equivalent of a painter’s brushstroke. He says more in one eloquent phrase and with his tonal subtlety than most guitarists manage in a lifetime.
He’s a master craftsman who searches for emotion in a self created atmospheric landscape, while his guitar playing evokes his lyrical imagery.
He draws on Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys era for a dark brooding portentous feel and he adds a swirling guitar sound full of sculpted wah-wah notes. It’s music that was shaped a long time ago, but on the evidence of tonight, he continues to hone his craft as both a player and meaningful songwriter.
Its hard to be believe he’s a septuagenarian, as he opens with the supercharged, galloping rhythm and wah-wah inflected ‘Too Rolling Stoned’. The belated tempo change leads to a dreamy feel which he explores frequently during the course of a well balanced set.
He’s a figure of studied concentration with mime-like facial contortions that directly mirror his colourful array of tones. Every now and then he allows himself a fleeting smile when completing a perfect phrase, or when he fills the room with measured sustain.
His signature tone and ethereal guitar lines are the result of the perfect synchronicity between his Strat pedals and Marshall stacks. And tonight we’re in the presence of a guitar master who dips into his back catalogue to remind us of his enduring presence in the contemporary rock/blues scene.
You can even forgive him the fact that he eschews introductions, preferring an occasional thank you or a wave before stepping back and counting the band into a series mid-tempo songs on which he lets his guitar do the talking.
Perhaps the most impressive thing is the way his newer material blends seamlessly with the more familiar songs. He’s wisely uses his own vocals sparingly, allowing bass player Richard Watts to grow into the vocal role as the evening progresses. But its Robin who sings on the drone like ‘See My Life’, as his spoken word vocals surprisingly counter- balance his sharp-edged wah-wah. The reflective ‘Where You Are Going To’ is a notable highlight, as he updates his style perfectly on a hypnotic groove full of layered guitar lines and a riff driven resolution
And suddenly right in the middle of the set we’re into ‘Day Of The Eagle’, which segues into the ethereal ‘Bridge Of Sighs’. He used to open with these two songs, but tonight along with ‘Too Rollin Stoned’ and ‘Little Bit Of Sympathy’ they are the building blocks and corner stone of an impressively paced set.
‘Day Of The Eagle’ might not quite have the same thrust without Jimmy Dewar’s vocals, but Richard Watts makes the right call by going for a nuanced and considered approach, that is offset by Trower’s opening punchy lines and a enveloping swirling tone.
‘Bridge Of Sighs’ provides the litmus test for the evening and the trio effortlessly step up to the plate, as the last note of ‘Eagle’ hovers and gently fades into that timeless opening riff that makes ‘Bridge Of Sighs’ so recognizable.
‘The Turning’ skips along with a feather light riff, and if ‘Confessing Midnight’ is just a little too studied, everything comes together perfectly on ‘Daydream’. The latter is all about Trower’s choice of notes, his touch, his use of space, time and his quest for perfection.
Tonight Robin Trower comes very close close to that ideal with a master class in rock/blues guitar playing.
Earlier on, the Stevie Nimmo Band impress us with a short, sharp and high octane set. Over the last couple of years he’s moved sharply from Americana to a brusquer, song-led blues/rock approach that fits tonight’s bill perfectly.
‘Roll The Dice’ rocks imperiously, while his cover of ‘Good Day For The Blues’ reminds us of his Texas influences. ’Running On Back To You’ soars and ‘Lovin’ Might Do Us Some Good’ cleverly moves from pop-rock to a southern rock finish.
If Robin Trower continues to set the highest of standards, Stevie Nimmo is learning fast and is clearly on the up escalator.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Mark Hughes/MHPStudios
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 26 July.. In the first hour David pays tribute to the blues/rock guitarist Peter Green.
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