LIVE: The Duke Robillard Band @ the Van Dyck, 4/3/15
Review by Fred Rudofsky
The 75-minute first set featured songs dating back to the 1920s on up to Robillard’s own compositions from a slew of albums (he may be the most prolific bluesman on the scene today). “Let’s ease ourselves into the evening,” said Robillard, seated at the microphone and smiling as he tuned up his white Telecaster. “T’n’T,” an instrumental evocative of Grant Green and Kenny Burrell, allowed the band to stretch out: Robillard soloed with economical wit, even quoting “The Flintstones” theme briefly; Bruce Bears hit all the right tones on the B-3; Brad Hallen played the upright bass with finesse and zeal; and Mark Teixeria offered up some fills on the drums that suggested he was ready to swing the blues all night long. Robillard paid tribute to Billie Holiday’s imminent birth centennial with a bouncing, melodic take on “I Can’t Believe You’re in Love with Me” that featured some very fine brush work by Texieria.
“Now, let’s get to some blues, here!” remarked Robillard, who dialed up a gritty Texas shuffle, “Jump the Blues for You” from 2007’s World Full of Blues, followed by a cool, extended after-hours take of T-Bone Walker’s “You Don’t Love Me, and I Don’t Even Care” that featured some of his remarkable soling. “I’m Gonna Quit My Baby,” from the recent Stony Plain release Calling All Blues!, had a cleverly off-kilter piano riff by Bears and some growling vocals and terse fills by Robillard. “Fatal Heart Attack,” a darkly humorous blues dedicated to an ex-wife, inspired Robillard to stand throughout much of the performance, wringing out solos with economy.
To the surprise of many, Robillard dug way back to the second Roomful of Blues album from 1979 for “I’m Sticking with You, Baby,” a perfect showcase for Bears on B-3 and Robillard’s exuberant vocals that called to mind his mentor and friend, the late Big Joe Turner. Hallen’s electric bass lines established a nasty Stax-like groove for the instrumental “Do the Memphis Grind,” which closed with a clever fade-out, fade- in, fade-out ending. Seated again, Robillard revisited the Roarin’ ’20s with “Avalon,” a spry instrumental take of an Al Jolson hit that let everybody show off their chops.
A rowdier but very appreciative crowd entered the room at 9pm. The 90-minute second set was equally if not more impressive, opening with “Swing with Lucy Mae,” an instrumental from 2008’s A Swinging Session that was dedicated to Robillard’s dog (“She breaks hearts everywhere she goes!” he cracked). “Sorry, Les Paul, I’m playing it on a Fender Telecaster,” said Robillard as he peered up to the ceiling before a lyrical, understated “I’m Confessin’ that I Love You.” Another swinging jazz instrumental, “Skippy’s Dream” from 2012’s Wobble Walkin’, was dedicated to Robillard’s beloved wife.
Sensing the crowd’s desire to hear some intense blues, Robillard shifted gears for the remainder of the set and really let loose. Snooky Pryor’s classic “Judgement Day” featured a deep pocket shuffle groove by Hallen and Texieria, tasty piano by Bears and some wonderfully dirty tones from Robillard, who recorded the song back in 1988 for the You Got Me album. “Down in Mexico,” one of the standout cuts from Calling All Blues!, sounded even better in the intimate room of the Van Dyck, with Robillard melding Steve Cropper-esque rhythms to the playful soloing style of Buddy Guy. “I’m Gonna Get You Told,” Robillard revealed, was inspired by one of his idols, B.B. King; indeed, the song echoed the late 1950s singles by the King of the Blues with its ringing tone and robust vocals. Taking the lead on “Confusion Blues,” Bears channeled the weary but sardonic voice of Mose Allison, examining the future shock nature of modern life.
The final four songs really hit the spot for blues lovers in the house. “Temptation,” a bluesy morsel of ’70s-style soul, got a rare airing and delved into “greed and hatred/ jealousy/going hand in hand.” “What happens when the police break up your party?” asked Robillard, eliciting laughter from the audience prior to “The Blue Coat Man,” a rollicking jump blues number that showed off Bears’ virtuoso piano work and had everybody in the room clapping in time with Hallen and Texieria. Energized, the band slid right into “Backstroke,” a scorching instrumental from the Albert Collins catalogue. A standing ovation called the band back out, and the melody of Tom Waits’ cathartic “Make It Rain” crept into the room, as a grinning Robillard, who clearly enjoyed declaiming the urgent lyrics, soloed with abandon over the slow, hypnotic tempo.
Some may think the blues is purely about loss, but as Robillard and his talented band demonstrated, it is also about humor, hope, daring and survival.
THE DUKE ROBILLARD BAND SET SET
I Can’t Believe You’re in Love with Me
Jump the Blues for You
You Don’t Love Me, and I Don’t Even Care
I’m Gonna Quit My Baby
Fatal Heart Attack
I’m Stickin’ with You, Baby
Do the Memphis Grind
Swinging with Lucy Mae
I’m Confessin’ that I Love You
Down in Mexico
I’m Gonna Get You Told
The Blue Coat Man
Make It Rain
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