You’ve got to give Robin Trower credit for getting off the classic-rock gravy train.
At a time when many ‘70s-era bands routinely reunite to crank out oldie after oldie, the veteran British guitarist has other ideas. At 52, Trower has decent new material (a pleasant surprise) and a summer tour set list with only four tunes more than 3 years old.
His 14-song set at a sold-out Galaxy Concert Theatre on Friday emphasized the heavy, riff-based rock of 1994’s “20th Century Blues” and his brand-new, blues-only release, “Someday Blues.” Some longtime fans expecting to hear such Trower staples as “Caledonia,” “Lady Love” and “Rock Me Baby” were probably disappointed. One loud-mouth, in fact, made his displeasure painfully clear.
But Trower’s smartly conceived performance gave the guitar worshipers enough, old and new, to cheer about. His prowess on the Fender Stratocaster remains impressive, whether he’s exorcising demons through blues compositions “Extermination Blues” and “I Want You to Love Me” or immersing himself in a slower, spacey instrumental such as “Secret Place.”
Trower also played four selections from his signature 1974 release, the Hendrix-influenced “Bridge of Sighs,” with care and gusto, particularly his solo-laden version of the title track and the hard-charging “Day of the Eagle.”
On his “Someday Blues” release, Trower sings for the first time--and he’s not bad. In concert, his expressive, sturdy voice served those numbers quite well, and it even reached an emotional peak during a fiery cover of B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel.”
Trower--who also played the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Saturday night--is no Stevie Ray Vaughan or Luther Allison. Still, even his early work has been informed by an understanding of and appreciation for the blues. His current interest in the idiom seems earnest, and Trower delivered the material convincingly, with a sense of purpose.
Bassist-vocalist Livingstone Brown and drummer Alvino Bennett added a few wrinkles as well. Much more groove-oriented than Trower’s prior power trios, the pair brought a diverse dynamic to the rhythm section by sprinkling soulful grooves (“Promise You the Stars”) and funk and R&B; elements (“Prisoner of Love”) into the mix.
But Brown, who sang the set’s rock songs, paled in comparison to the underappreciated, whiskey-throated James Dewar, the lead singer on most of Trower’s classic songs. Marred by his poor enunciation and unfocused delivery, Brown’s singing proved ineffective.
Overall, Trower’s attempt to step beyond a nostalgia act is an admirable one. He may not offer anything truly groundbreaking, but it’s good to see a musician pushing his creative limits.
In contrast, one band that is stuck in a ‘70s-rock rut is Eye Savant. The opening act from Coto de Caza offered plenty of sweeping, anthem-like power ballads (eek!) that quickly brought Heart, Styx and Queen to mind. The quartet’s generic sound and abstract songs about fear, dragons and darkness made for one dismal experience.