“Good evening,” Duke Robillard greeted the crowd at the Van Dyck Lounge last Friday night. Then he quickly added, “Or good afternoon, almost.”
Robillard wasn’t far wrong. Despite the 6:30pm start time and the tightly-closed curtains behind the stage, sunlight still streamed in from the windows high up in the loft area. Daylight Saving Time may make evening backyard cookouts fun, but it makes going to early club dates kind of weird. Nevertheless, the Van Dyck was nearly full when Robillard counted off “a tune I wrote for my dog,” the instrumental “Swingin’ with Lucy Mae.”
You always know what you’re going to get with Duke, because he’s been serving it up for over thirty years – blues with a feeling, hooked inexorably to a history decorated with names like T-Bone Walker and B.B. King. Robillard dedicated “I’m Gonna Get You Cold” to King because “I borrowed every lick from B.B. to make this song!” His confession only got laughs, because if there’s anyone who can bring that sweet, soulful noise the Mayor of Bluesville made famous, it’s Duke Robillard.
With spirited support from keyboardist Bruce Bears, bassist Brad Hilleen and drummer Mark Teixeira, Duke gave us every shade of the blues – slow and smoky like Walker’s “Glamour Girl,” spicy and smoldering like Robillard’s cruising “I May Be Ugly (But I Sure Can Cook)” and burning-hot like another Duke tune, “I’ll Never Let You Go.” The latter piece comes from Robillard’s 1990 disc, “Duke’s Blues.”
“I never thought I’d be saying 1990 was ‘the old days,'” Robillard laughed. As someone who saw Duke play with Roomful of Blues in 1980, I know exactly how he feels.
Rather than living in the past, Robillard’s bringing the past to us. The laid-back “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You” came from Duke’s latest disc, “Tales from the Tiki Lounge,” a very cool tribute to Les Paul & Mary Ford. Robillard replicated the late guitar pioneer’s signature sound perfectly, and he dealt another blast from Paul’s early days with the full-tilt boogie “Just Because.”
Robillard told us that tune was also recorded by Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong “and about 1,000 polka bands in Pennsylvania,” and if the Van Dyck had a dance floor, it’s a fair bet we’d have seen some heavy polka dancing. And that would have been perfectly cool – even in “the late afternoon” of a Friday night.
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk