British blues-rocker Rory Gallagher may have had his struggles with a fear of flying (his reason for not touring the States in more than six years), but he clearly doesn't have any such apprehensions about soaring on stage. His show Thursday at Peppers' Golden Bear gusted along with all of the legendary Strat-basher's customary grit and fury.
Some of it was a mite too customary, with a show featuring more songs from his 1972 "Rory Gallagher, Live!" than from his new, surprisingly vital "Fresh Evidence" album. The current disc's rollicking "Kid Gloves" and deftly mutated boogie "The Loop" were high points in a set that called out for more of the album's solid tunesmithing, zydeco rhythms and focused musicianship.
Gallagher's performance had several virtues, but finesse wasn't particularly one of them. Backed by a blustery bass, drums and harmonica trio (including his sidekick of two decades, bassist Gerry McAvoy) Gallagher comported himself like a Gaelic Johnny Winter, throwing up such a storm of notes that the passion he put into them was sometimes devalued. The effect was far stronger when he gave his phrases room to breathe, which was the case in his stinging solo on the 1973 ode to estrangement, "A Million Miles Away."
The deluge also abated a tad when he switched to acoustic guitar for a trio of folk-blues standards, including his reading of Leadbelly's "Out on the Western Plain." For an Irishman conveying a black interpretation of Southwestern cowboy life on a Japanese guitar, Gallagher's coarse-grained vocal and open-chorded guitar figures proved highly evocative.