Robert Cray Band April 22, 2008
Robert Cray Band: Done Wrong, Done Right at Cerritos
By Glen Creason
The Robert Cray Band came to Cerritos and did not waste much time on a Saturday night making the hall sit up and bite off big chunks of the blues. The taste was deep and dark, filled with longing, heartache and some bittersweet wisdom. Somehow you don’t mind taking your lessons from a real master and Maestro Cray is certainly a bone fide professor of the genre, holding up that blazing Stratocaster and shouting long and low, those songs of the anguished and downhearted. You don’t have to have a broken heart to understand these songs but if you’ve been there they have a wonderful way of connecting your pain with everybody who has wallowed there and suffered it through. One of the reasons this unique American form is so beloved is because of this universality. When he sings it, you feel it and when he makes that guitar tell its tale that feeling reaches right into the deepest part of your soul. The poet says that pain carves the heart out to make room for joy and there were plenty of both on this night. Robert Cray is one of the new voices that have become old school in saving the precious music and keeping it vibrant and meaningful. He plays so hard and with such passion, an assistant brings him a fresh and freshly tuned ax after each and every song.
Those of us who may do some cubicle You Tube surfing when we are supposed to be working may have seen dozens of amazing Robert Cray solos but when he opened the show with “Bad Influence,” the amazingly edgy “Twelve Year Old Boy” and the espresso dark “Back Door Slam” he gave us enough astounding Fender notes to have filled an ordinary concert. He can sting the strings on individual notes, then blast into a rapid strumming that is almost orchestral, all the while leaving room for the extraordinary Robert Cray Band to strut their marvelous stuff. Here and there you can marvel at the towering keyboard skills of the wonderful Jim Pugh, along with the thundering backbeat of bassist Karl Sevareid and drummer Kevin Hayes. While Cray is a real blues man he does break out often in the show and the optimistic “Bouncin’ Back” was like a drink of ice water in the set which then returned to the trio of winners in the desperately sad “Where Do I Go From Here,” the traditional sounding “Phone Booth” and a contemporary cautionary tale about life on the streets called “Poor Johnny.” Pugh’s solo on “Where Do I Go” was just the first of several that could have stood as a show on their own. The man looks like my accountant and plays organ like Jimmy Reed.
Even though this performance is about the blues and Cray’s incredible guitar skills he gave time to the song “Twenty” which is a powerful anti-war song that placed in context with the repertoire made it even more potent with that message. The bell lap of this performance was a four hundred meters of blues comprised of “The One in the Middle,” the old beauty “Sitting On Top of the World” and encores comprised of the nice “Time Makes Two” and the true grit of “I’m Walking” that almost melted a guitar in its superior execution. As the song says “the blues aint nothing but a good man feeling bad.”