Review: Robert Cray – The Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool – 02 July 2010

Posted on: Sunday, Jul 4, 2010

The Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool: 02.07.10

It was a pleasure to catch Robert Cray’s second appearance in Liverpool, following on from a great gig at the Empire Theatre some two years ago. Here, accompanied by his crack band – the returning Richard Cousins (bass), Jim Pugh (keyboards) and Tony Braunagel (drums) – he delivered a blistering set of his customary soulful blues, and it’s a pleasure to report his magnificent voice and ever-tasteful guitar work were as good as ever, and well suited to the grand surroundings.

Since arriving on the scene and coming to prominence in the early 80s he has produced a string of classic albums and is much admired by his peers, indeed, he shared the stage yet again with Eric Clapton at his ‘Crossroads’ festival in Chicago, just last week. It’s easy to see why he is held in such regard, apart from his ever-youthful looks his music seems to come to life on stage, with an added funkiness to many of the songs, and his ability to change the mood – often dropping out of fiery solos to take the music down to low levels, with such great dynamics.

He could do no wrong in front of a pretty full Philharmonic, and opened up with a lengthy “Our Last Time”, and gave keyboard maestro, the much in-demand Jim Pugh a chance to show his prowess on both piano and Hammond B3 organ. He doesn’t deal in many covers but we were treated to a lovely “Sitting On Top Of The World”, effortlessly elegant with his afore-mentioned superb voice shining.

His current album, “This Time” was well represented in the set, with standouts being the wry “Chicken In The Kitchen” – I must admit I wondered about the plastic chicken on drummer Tony Braunagel’s kit – and one of the encores, the stunning jazzy shuffle “That’s What Keeps Me Rockin’”, with Cray and the band swinging on all cylinders . . . Jim Pugh’s keyboards the perfect foil for the vocals and guitar work.

A dip into the productive period of the mid 80s featured the near hit single, “Smoking Gun”, and the anguish of “Right Next Door (Because Of Me)”, and the title track of “Bad Influence” – great songs that have certainly stood the test of time. Highlight of the whole set was possibly the epic balladry of “Time Makes Two”, a truly great song.

Special mentions must go to the band, with the rhythm section of his returning long-time bass player Richard Cousins and the powerful drums of Tony Braunagel . . . a man with a stunning cv to his name, as does Jim Pugh – together they make a formidable unit behind Robert Cray.

Opening up the show was the South Wales dynamo that is Andy Fairweather Low, after seeing him the last two years at the International Guitar Festival of Great Britain doing two hour sets, it must have been difficult to trim down to a 40 minute acoustic set! However in the company of his Low Riders – Dave Bronze (bass and vocals), Nick Pentelow (saxophone and clarinet) and Paul Beavis (drums) – he delivered a snapshot of his 46-year career . . . some blues, gospel and pop.

Highlights were a sprightly “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?”, some Jimmy Reed on “Hiding & Peeping”, and a dip into his A&M period hits with the timeless “Wide Eyed & Legless”. He and the band delivered a stunning “Hymn For My Soul”, one of his songs that Joe Cocker covered, and a glorious “(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice” from the heady days of Amen Corner in the 60s. With typical humour the closing “When You’re Smiling” was dedicated to the England football team . . . thanks Andy!


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