Robert Cray Band – Sage Gateshead

Opening act Jon Allen is a folk influenced singer-songwriter and not what you’d expect at a Blues concert; but he was very amiable and quite a few of his songs were well received by an enthusiastic audience.

Allen was charm personified as he introduced his songs and his voice and even mannerisms, to some degree reminded me of Ralph McTell, which is no bad thing in my book.

A couple of song; in particular, Joanna and the deeply personal (Living) In Your Light meant that there was a long queue to buy his CD at the interval.

Shows at Sage Gateshead run with military precision and on the stroke of 8.30 the house lights dimmed and a deep, booming voice introduced Robert Cray, who scampered through the shadows to take his place in front of a very minimal set of speakers, drums and two keyboards.

With no introduction the band slid seamlessly into Shiver All Over; which is exactly the effect Robert Cray’s classy style of guitar playing has on his fans (and me).

The guitarist has an effortless way about him; and he doesn’t go in for all of the histrionics that seem popular these days, but when he plays a note, it stays played.

Most people in the audience had come to hear his guitar playing but Cray’s instantly recognizable voice is certainly worth mentioning as it is as smooth and as sweet as the Blues he plays; and it hardly sounds anymore road worn than when I first saw him at Newcastle City Hall 21 years ago.

Of the songs he played from his latest album NOTHING BUT LOVE; Side Dish absolutely sizzled and Bobby Parker Jr’s Blues Get Off My Shoulder sounded as mournful as it was soulful and was one of the highlights of a wonderful concert.

As I said there were a handful of aged speakers in front of the drum riser, but every nuance of the sound the band created could be heard with crystal clarity.

All night long songs were slipped in from a career that spans over thirty years and his signature tunes, Right Next Door, Strong Persuader and Smoking Gun all sounded as fresh tonight as when he first recorded them; but the risqué Back Door Slam andChicken in the Kitchen sounded so good, they could have been written yesterday.

One song I wasn’t familiar with, Move A Mountain from the 1990 album MIDNIGHT STROLL took my breath away in it’s simplicity while Cray sang the lyrics as if his life depended on it.

Somehow or other I must have missed Worry when I listened to the new album; because tonight it managed to soar out of the speakers and punch me in the mouth. The subject matter, his girlfriend walks the streets is a bit odd; but the song is the Blues par excellence and certainly deserves closer attention when I get home.  

As the band came back on stage for a well deserved encore I was left wondering what was left in the bag; but two more songs from the latest album had me weak at the knees; A Memo was simply outstanding and the anthemic social commentary,I’m Done Crying, which closed the show, was as good as the Blues ever gets.

Robert Cray has probably made a good living from the Blues, but for me has never got the credit his playing and songwriting deserves. Perhaps he’s just been in the business at the wrong time with the Rockier end of the Blues being in the ascendancy, but he really is the real deal and is best appreciated when playing on stage.

Damn right I’ve got the Blues!

Robert Cray interview –