Robert Cray Band
O2 City Hall
Friday 6th May 2022
Unlike many of my peers; I’m not as enthralled with ‘live music’ these days as I should be … and that’s not just a Post-Covid ‘thing;’ as I felt the same way three or more years ago.
To some degrees it’s a health ‘thing’ as I’m no longer able to stand for three or more hours; so the opportunity to not just see Robert Cray and visit the newly revamped City Hall; which was my ‘go to’ venue as a young man was a night that couldn’t be missed.
We were still looking for our seats when the support act appeared on stage and if my eyes didn’t deceive me; it was Welsh duo …. Zervas & Pepper!
Last seen at the SummerTyne Festival 4 or 5 years ago; they immediately seemed a strange choice as support; but the knowledgeable audience instantly fell in love with their style of Laurel Canyon drenched Americana.
Opening with Living In a Small Town that led into the really rather good Silver To Chrome; which had a punchy Folk Rock edge to it.
Without pointing fingers; I think it’s fair to say that the ‘soundman’ didn’t do them any favours tonight; with Paul Zervas rich voice regularly being pushed down in the mix and Kathryn Pepper’s sounding too ‘toppy’ at times ….. thankfully I could see through this and know what great voices they both have …. and when they harmonise; as they do on Look Out Mountain and The Gift; I defy anyone to not be cast their memories back to the halcyon days of Laurel Canyon in all its pomp.
While I recognised a few songs from their Abstract Heart album; they slid in a new song from an imminent album; and the intense White Flag; with its power chords certainly piqued my attention for its release.
As is our won’t we went to the bar at the intermission; and my Brother decided that it must be his ’round’ and ordered two pints of very average and too cold beer in plastic glasses; and nearly had to take an extra tablet when told they would cost £6.75 each!!!!!
Back in the main hall and standing at the front ready to take photos; the band wandered onto the stage in pitch darkness; then on the drummer’s count slid seamlessly into Nothin’ But Love and the scene was set for a fabulous evening of super smooth Soul infused Blues of the highest order.
The first of several surprises was hearing Phone Booth so early in the set; and my notes say ‘full of horny bass lines’ and ‘CooooLLL’ which I still standby those words today.
I can’t list all 20 songs from the set, obviously but we had a delirious mix of Soul Shuffles, majestically moody Blues Ballads and more than enough searing Bluesy Soft Rockers to satisfy even the tardiest of music fans.
After all these years I’d forgot what a great singing voice Robert Cray has; sliding through a range that belies his age on the heartbreakingly sleazy The Things You Do To Me and You Move Me Baby too.
I think of Robert, first and foremost as a guitarist; yet my brother had never heard of him …. strange you might think; but Robert Cray has always flown under the radar …. and suffice to say, Brother Brian was a convert after only three songs.
Speaking of which; in the grand pantheon of Great Blues Guitarists Cray rarely, if ever gets a mention; yet tonight (and not for the first time either) he made his assortment of Fender Stratocasters’, not just weep and cry but scream at times tonight ….. and as for ‘innovative’ …. man; this guy knows no boundaries.
Again; as Brian pointed out afterwards…. this wasn’t just a showcase for the Star; it actually felt like a total band effort; with Les Falconer on drums and Richard Cousins’ ‘less is more’ style of bass playing certainly held everything together like a copper weld; but the legendary (in my head!) Dover Weinberg on Hammond very nearly ‘stole the show’ such was his fabulous playing and ever present smile.
Just so many ….. but a couple of new songs to me really caught my attention; The Shiver was haunting and really showed what an amazing guitar player Cray is; and the playful Roadhouse Blues of Hot featured some extraordinary guitar playing; yet Cray himself is the opposite of flash!
Right in the middle of the show You Had My Heart; a great song in itself featured some serious tub-thumping from Les Falconer as well as Cray sounding like he was stabbing at the guitar strings while his voice dropped an octave or two …. you had to be there.
With so much to choose from his own back catalogue Robert even gave us an amazing cover of Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s slow and intensely sensitive The Soul of a Man in which every single second was filled to the max.
The set was bookended with Cray’s other ‘hit’ …. Right Next Door, which was a bit ‘heavier’ than I’ve heard before, and somehow ….. all the better for that; then they ‘closed the show’ with a no holds barred You Must Believe In Yourself.
Cray and band mates then thanked the crowd and left the stage ……. Bizarrely; after all these years adults around us were wondering out loud whether they would come back for an encore.
Sure enough, after the obligatory minute in the wings … back they came for two stunning songs ; the darkly smoky Forecast Calls (for Pain) and the sultry Time Makes Two with another playful false ending; then to a deserved standing ovation they were gone into the Spring night.