Robben Ford's brief set was a testament to the versatile player's musical integrity. Ford played and sang more or less straightforward blues numbers, some of his own as well as a heart-felt version of Willie Dixon's "It Don't Make Sense (You Can't Make Peace)." While the majority of electric blues guitarists drench their sound in layers of mistake-forgiving distortion, Ford played his Gibson Les Paul with an impeccably clean tone that drew equal attention to each plucked note. With blues leads being a historically raunchy proposition, this exacting approach was a bit jarring at first. Once your ears had the opportunity to adjust, however, the exquisite nature of Ford's playing revealed itself. And, Robben Ford being the virtuoso that he is, what do you know but some of his more exciting solos actually generated their own kind of organic raunch from his natural speed and dexterity on the instrument.
Following a brief intermission, the Bluesbreakers began again with Buddy Whittington on lead guitar and vocals. Wittington had been given a couple of breaks during Ford's set, but this was his first chance to really show what he could do and an intimation of what we were going to hear the rest of the night. He played with real fire. Mayall would later introduce him as hailing from Texas, and it was no surprise. There's a thing that Texas guitarists have in their playing, a kind of strut you hear in the tone and attack of Texas bluesmen regardless of what else they bring to the table. T-Bone Walker, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, for example, played three completely different styles of blues, yet they all had that quality. Buddy Whittington does also.
Following this opening number, John Mayall was introduced and it was immediately apparent that the 73-year-old remains in fine voice. His portion of the show began with several numbers from the new Road Dogs CD. The songs were all pretty effective and enjoyable even if they were essentially revisitations of the themes that Mayall has worked with as a songwriter throughout his long career--"Road Dogs" is another picture of life on the road, while "Chaos in the Neighborhood" shows Mayall still writing about his social concerns. "Burning Bridges," was the most interesting of the new songs. The instrumental component built to a harmonica and mouth percussion solo from Mayall that recalled his 1970 hit "Room to Move." But whereas the lyrics of the earlier song were a young man's cry of independence, this newer composition told a story in song about the results of infidelity, rather a different theme altogether.
Satisfying as this material was, the evening's most exciting moments naturally came when Mayall played some of his old favorites. Mayall, who stuck mainly to keyboards, vocals and harmonica, strapped on an electric guitar for his 12-bar "Walking on Sunset," and the group played a handful of songs from what Mayall called "The Beano Album" the legendary John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton session from 1965 featuring a young Slowhand and the rhythm section that would form the nucleus of Fleetwood Mac. The current Bluesbreakers arrangement of Freddie King's "Hideaway" was as freewheeling as their predecessors' was precise, with Whittington and Mayall liberally injecting quotes ranging from Ray Charles tunes to things like "The Eyes of Texas are Upon You" (or "I've Been Working on the Railroad," as we non Texas Longhorns mostly recognize it). Robben Ford reappeared to trade ripping solos with Whittington and Mayall on "Have You Heard About My Baby." Following that, they were then joined by Eric Bibb who sang and strummed an acoustic on the last song of the set.
For an encore, Mayall chose the song the audience was asking for--the aforementioned "Room to Move." The band drove the rhythm just so, building to the tour de force solo foreshadowed earlier in the evening on "Burning Bridges." The Rockin' Blues Revue certainly lived up to its titular promise and, in the fine performances of John Mayall, Robben Ford, Eric Bibb & Buddy Whittington, delivered as advertised and a bit more as well.