The term living legend should not be lightly used, but in rock circles Robin Trower comes close to that description. With a signature guitar style and playing as well, if not better, than ever, the master craftsman is about to hit 73 and you never know how many more opportunities there will be to see him.
This feeling of time passing, allied to the fact this was a solitary UK tour date rearranged from the original date because of illness, doubtless contributed to the Assembly Hall being the most packed I can remember it.
Appetites were whetted with a very well-matched support act in Sari Schorr, accompanied by a couple of well-respected rising stars on the blue scene in guitarist Ash Wilson and former King King keyboard player Bob Pridzema.
Their subtle, stripped back instrumentation perfectly complemented the marvellously booming soulful voice of the voluptuous, dark-haired New Yorker and gave songs like ‘Demolition Man’ and ‘Maybe I’m Falling’ an almost jazzy swing to them, while the two provided harmony vocals to help make ‘Damn The Reason’ my personal set highlight.
There were also a couple of classic covers reimagined: Bad Company’s ‘Ready For Love’ fitted the format perfectly, though ‘Black Betty’ not so much to my liking. I made a mental note to make sure I caught her again, preferably in full band format.
Robin Trower showed absolute confidence in his own material as he came on stage to play that unmistakable scratchy guitar intro to one of his best loved songs, ‘Too Rollin Stoned’, perfectly showcasing his distinct style, and inverting the usual rock clichés by starting out as a full blown riff rocker before taking the pace down with a quieter second half. On this and ‘Lady Luck’, bassist Richard Watts had now warmed into the unenviable task of emulating the bluesy vocals of James Dewar and latterly Davy Patterson, and was doing them justice.
However in late career Robin has increasingly added singing to his repertoire and while hardily a natural, on new songs ‘Returned In Kind’ and later on ‘Can’t Turn Back The Clock’ his voice had an agreeably weary, gravelly feel to it, while the two shared vocal duties on ‘Not Outside-Inside’.
‘Make Up Your Mind’ was the closest he got to pure blues, before a double from what is still his crowning glory, ‘Bridge of Sighs’. ‘Day Of The Eagle’ (always dear to my heart as a Crystal Palace FC fan) rattled along at a fair pace, helped by some excellent drum work from Chris Taggart, and segued into the title track, which over its 10 minute length is still the best showcase for Robin’s precise, controlled guitar tones in which each note conveys emotion and not a single one is wasted.
In many ways this is not a conventional rock show with the music left to speak for itself. There was no witty small talk between songs, set pieces or audience participation, just the occasional modest thank you to the crowd and his selfless rhythm section. The only concession to flamboyance is the way that Robin’s face lives out every note, resulting in the famous gurning expressions that once earned him the nickname ‘fishface’.
His songs broadly fall in two categories and as the set wound towards a conclusion, lively fast tempo rockers in ‘Confessing Midnight’ and ‘Little Bit of Sympathy’, perhaps the song where his famed Hendrix influences are most obvious, were bookended by a 13 minute long ‘Daydream’ in which he took the audience into an alternate, spacey sonic universe.
There were two encores and the first ‘Rise Up Like The Sun’, which I admit to being unfamiliar with, was a storming blues rocker with a distinct Cream influence, before another of those lengthy, dreamy guitar epics in ‘For Earth Below’.
Saying goodbye with a modest, almost bashful wave of his hand, his set, as usual, only barely tipped the hour and a half mark, but no-one could have left disappointed, witnessing quite simply a master of his craft at work.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Paul Clampin
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