Led by guitar-slinging troubadour Ray Benson, western swing kingpins Asleep at the Wheel have been churning out their spirited mix of country, bluegrass, swing, jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll for more than 40 years now.
The line-up has changed considerably over the years, but the sound remains the same, anchored solidly by Texas tunesmith Benson’s deep and easy-on-the-ears voice. Their fan base is huge and spread out from coast to coast and includes Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Vince Gill, the Dixie Chicks, Merle Haggard and so many more among them.
Two years ago when Asleep at the Wheel last passed through the area, they were playing the Palace Theatre with a bigger band that included horns. This time out they were stripped down to a seven-piece outfit with no horns, and they were playing in the smaller, more intimate, Swyer Theatre at The Egg.
No matter, blame it on economics or a thousand other things why fewer folks showed up, but don’t blame the music: it jumped, did cartwheels and sounded oh-so-good, as it always does whenever Benson and the Wheel roll into town.
With a gut-bucket full of originals and well-chosen covers, Asleep at the Wheel transformed the theatre into a Texas roadhouse, a Chicago jazz club or “Austin City Limits,” depending on the tune.
Dan Walton’s piano jazz licks exchanged solos with Eddie River’s marvellous pedal steel guitar lines, while Benson added just the right guitar accents to create a space for Jason Roberts’ fiery fiddle runs. Guitarist Elizabeth McQueen, bassist David Miller and drummer David Sanger nailed down the rhythm and kept hammering it to keep it tight and right on cue.
Out in the audience, feet were tapping out the rhythms right along with the band, and the waves of applause kept coming all night. The hard-touring band has been at it for more than four decades, and Asleep at the Wheel just keeps rolling along and delighting crowds, one town after another.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk