Saturday, June 4, 2011

Robin Trower - The Playful Heart Tour (2011)

Looking back, I'm actually surprised that this is the third time (and not the second) that I've seen Robin Trower in concert. Not that that's anything remarkable - he is one of my favorite guitarists of all time, after all. But it just goes to show, I'm not a newbie concert-goer anymore - I've been going to concerts for almost a decade now.

But this was a brand new venue. I've actually avoided coming to this venue in the past (Robin Trower and Joe Bonamassa both have done shows there that I've skipped), because it's a little farther out of my way. But it's a nice place, and it's not too hard to find. Fancier than the Rex Theatre I've seen Trower at in the past, and more on par with the Carnegie Music Hall of Oakland that I saw Joe Bonamassa in earlier this spring. My seat was up in the balcony, but in the front row (not unlike at that Joe Bonamassa show), so that I wasn't super close, but I at least had a good view of the action.

I was actually a little rushed getting out to The Palace Theatre, thinking the show was going to start promptly at eight ("the circus starts at eight, so don't be late"), since there was no mention whatsoever of an opening act on the ticket. I got there just after eight, and a rock trio was playing. I have no idea who it was. Looking back at my records, I had no idea who the opener was for the last Robin Trower show I saw either, so I guess that's just Trower's thing. Anyway, they were alright. The guitarist was a show-off, and he was good, but the sound was kind of off, to my ears.

Robin Trower opened with a surprise - a song that I was very happy to hear, Confessin' Midnight. I still maintain that despite the greater popularity of Bridge of Sighs, For Earth Below is the superior album. And I am thus always grateful to hear Robin perform tracks from that album in concert - and I like that he does, because it shows that he recognizes that album's brilliance as well.

The next surprise I got was the third song in the setlist. Robin introduced it as a track from the In City Dreams album. I was at first dismayed, because that album's not quite on par with his first three - but I should have trusted Trower's judgment. It was the track Somebody Calling, which is a fantastic funky rock number that I absolutely love. And it sounded great in concert. One of the highlights of the show.

Following that was a double shot of title tracks - first For Earth Below, which sounded really sublime in the instrumental coda, and then Twice Removed From Yesterday. Then we heard the usual Day of the Eagle into Bridge of Sighs combo. Even though I've heard them live before, it was interesting to hear them from the perspective of having played them myself semi-regularly. So instead of just listening and being impressed, I can actually pay closer attention to how the song comes together, and where Robin plays the different riffs, and how he works out the solo. Of course, I can only follow so far, but it's still interesting - I've picked little things up here and there that way, before.

I don't want to be a downer, but Bridge of Sighs wasn't as sublime as it has been in the past. I don't know if it's because of the way Robin played it, or just because I've heard it a few times already, and its magic is wearing off. Notice, I'm not saying it was bad, just less magical. It still sounded great. But afterward, the band kicked into Shame The Devil, another track from For Earth Below - and one of my favorites. I was really excited to hear that one, though it seems like they cut it a little short. Oh well.

Funny story, before I went to the concert, my brother asked me if Trower was promoting a new album, and I mentioned The Playful Heart. He asked me if it was any good, and I mentioned that there was one song on it in particular that I really liked. I decided that there was no way he'd play that particular song at the concert, because these guys always do the hit songs, skipping the ones that are truly the best, musically. Strike two - I really shouldn't doubt Trower. He played only one track from his new album throughout the concert, and it was that one track that I liked the best - a song called The Turning, which has a sublime instrumental coda.

Yeah, that's kind of a motif in Robin Trower's music - instrumental codas (that are often sublime). It's funny, in a lot of songs, the band would go through the first half, and then Davey Pattison (returning vocalist from previous concerts I've seen) would walk off the stage for the second (instrumental) half of the song, only to come back for the next song.

After the crowd-pleasing Too Rolling Stoned, the band finished out their set with Little Bit of Sympathy - in my opinion, one of the best set-closing songs ever. I was actually a little surprised when I heard it, because I knew it had to be the last song, and it felt a little early. The band played for a good hour and a half all told - I guess I was spoiled by Joe Bonamassa's long set in March, but then he actually didn't have an opening act.

The whole encore production ("walk off the stage pretending to be done, even though every single person in the audience knows you're gonna come back and do an encore") was kind of silly. I thought to myself, if I was in their place, I wouldn't go through all that silliness just because people expect it. I wouldn't walk off the stage pretending I was finished unless I actually believed I was finished - and encores would be encores, not closing mini-sets. But then I thought, if a band did that, then after they were finished, the crowd would expect an encore (because that's what they've come to expect), and would probably riot if they didn't get one. So I guess the band's hands are pretty much tied. They have to jump through those hoops because that's what people expect them to do. It's kind of sad, and I wish there was a solution for it.

The encore consisted of two songs. The first was the only song of the night I didn't recognize, and the second was Daydream. Daydream is my favorite Robin Trower song bar none. And it still sounds fantastic live. It's a beautiful song to start, and it suits Trower's tone and technical style of playing guitar perfectly. Though I feel he may have set the bar for it too high on the live version from his Live album from the seventies, with those impossible sustained notes. You can tell the whole audience is expecting to hear a repeat of that performance, but sustain is a hard thing to control. Nevertheless, the song sounds fantastic even when it doesn't reach those heights, and while you're busy wishing for the stars, you find that you've settled in cozily among the fluffy clouds.

Confessin' Midnight
Lady Love
Somebody Calling
For Earth Below
Twice Removed From Yesterday
Day of the Eagle
Bridge of Sighs
Shame The Devil
The Turning
Too Rolling Stoned
A Little Bit of Sympathy

Rise Up Like The Sun

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