Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Rudy Lu
Starving for a fine meal, craving a cold beverage, and yearning for music to soothe my Frankenstein-like monster soul, I sped down I-90 after a frantic work week to the Van Dyck in Schenectady.
“I’d like a ticket for each show, the 7 and the 9:30, please,” I asked the vendor.
“Just one? For both shows? You’re just by yourself?” she smiled awkwardly. I sensed her pity.
“Yes,” I replied. I had the loneliness-blues for sure, and my stomach was growling, too.
I’m glad I bought a ticket for both sets – the music was, as expected, first-rate, and seeing that the venerable club had sold out all its tables was gratifying. Grammy nominee Duke Robillard and his talented band (Bruce Bears on keyboards; Brad Hallen on acoustic and electric bass; and Mark Teixeira on drums) took the stage to strong applause and launched into an instrumental take of “High Heel Sneakers” that slinky and greasy at the same time, and followed that with a swinging shuffle, “Jump the Blues for You.”
“We’d like to play one for you by T-Bone Walker. It’s called ‘You Don’t Love Me, and I Don’t Even Care.’ It’s what you’d call a blues love song!” exclaimed Robillard with a chuckle. Impeccable tone is a hallmark of Robillard’s style, and he played a swaggering long solo to open the tune, which gave way to a robust vocal. There were several “Wow!” moments throughout the first set, including the Louis Jordanesque “The Blue Man Coat”, a smoldering instrumental (“Jesse’s Blues” from the recent Wobble Walkin’), the give-everybody-in-the-band workout of “I Can’t Believe You’re in Love with Me” and “Lookin’ for Trouble,” a gritty, Chicago-styled blues that called to mind the late great Eddie Taylor.
The second set featured a heavier selection of blues. Robillard strapped on a vintage Strat and led his band through a cool take of “Stoned” with solos for all, and kept the smiles on everybody’s face with the wry “I’m Going to Buy Me a Dog to Take the Place of You.” He also paid tribute, with Gibson guitar in hand, to four key guitar influences – Guitar Slim, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Les Paul and John Lee Hooker -and the audience had a ball. By request, he played “Midnight Cannonball” from Duke’s Blues, with a shout out to his late friend, Big Joe Turner, with Bears playing some cool boogie woogie piano.
For the uninitiated, hearing Robillard play “Make It Rain” by Tom Waits must have been jarring, but it proved to be the highpoint of the evening, with the Rhode Island maestro roaring out the terse lyrics and playing a stupendous series of solos that left all agape. “My Tears” marked a nod to Robillard’s days as a founding member of Roomful of Blues, and “Fishnet” closed out the night with a playful ode to the ladies of the world who know how to dress right.
After the show, Robillard greeted fans, posed for photos, signed plenty of autographs and commented several times about how much he had loved coming back to play the Van Dyck. Let’s hope he returns soon. In the meantime, look for his new album due out this April.
J Hunter’s review (second show) at Nippertown
Andrew Sommers review at Capital Region Blues Network
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review (first show) at The Daily Gazette: “The band slowed the tempo for T-Bone Walker’s ‘You Don’t Love Me, and I Don’t Even Care,’ which Robillard introduced by quipping, ‘That’s right, it’s a blues love song.’ He then proceeded to tear away at his Les Paul, at times almost fighting the snaking groove laid out by his band, only to lock in for the explosive choruses. The band’s dynamics were on full display here, as the lengthy jam ebbed and flowed from a dull roar to a barely audible whisper. Robillard’s playing was matched in intensity by all the other musicians onstage, and his willingness to share the spotlight made the show something special. Bears, the band’s secret weapon, took the spotlight on the swinging ‘Blue Coat Man,’ and got in some nice call-and-response soloing against Robillard on the darkly humorous ‘You’re Just About as Welcome as a Fatal Heart Attack.’ Teixeira and Hallen also took a few solos on the jazzy ‘I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me,’ originally recorded by Billie Holiday.”
DUKE ROBILLARD SET LISTS
High Heel Sneakers (Tommy Tucker)
Jump the Blues for You
You Don’t Love Me, and I Don’t Even Care (Aaron “T-Bone” Walker)
The Blue Coat Man
You’re About as Welcome as a Fatal Heart Attack
I Can’t Believe You’re in Love with Me (Gaskill and McHugh)
Lookin’ for Trouble
I May Be Ugly But I Sure Know How to Cook
I’m Going to Buy Me a Dog to Take the Place of You
Quicksand (Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones)
Three Hours Past Midnight (Johnny “Guitar” Watson)
I’m Confessing that I Love You (Fields and McHugh)
Want Ad Blues (John Lee Hooker)
Midnight Cannonball (Big Joe Turner)
I’m Gonna Get You Told
Make It Rain (Tom Waits)