O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
added: 11 Jul 2012
// gig date: 26 Jun 2012
reviewer: Russell Cook
The technological innovations of the 1980’s had a real impact upon the music industry and a major effect on so-called ‘guitar music’, with the impact felt profoundly to this day. To many music fans, Robert Cray acted as a torchbearer during those years, keeping guard of guitar music’s most sacred genre, the blues, and steering it through torrid waters.
During those years musicians had to embrace the technological advancements of the time and move continuously with them to stay relevant; the alternative was to do something seriously outlandish and bombastic just to stay afoot – Motley Crue, Twisted Sister and Van Halen immediately spring to mind. However, Robert Cray always did his own thing, regularly departing from the standardised blues form he is arguably most recognised for, delivering music that just cannot be pinned down into one single genre, whilst always retaining a sense of the ‘bluesman’ ethos. His well-oiled soulful voice, rich in diverse melody and tone, recalls much more Motown than it does Chess Records, whilst his toying with the standard form of the blues has meant that he still appeals to new audiences with a continuously fresh approach to the genre.
Cray’s set at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire tonight highlights how as a musician, he is happy to carry on riding his own wave of creation, consistently reworking the blues wheel by affecting its groove, chord structures and modes of notation by drawing influence from anywhere but the genre he is so widely attributed to being a key part. The reintroduction of original Robert Cray Band bass player, Richard Cousins in 2010, seems to have in part reinvigorated a desire to throw a spanner back into the works by reworking the infamous Cray sound, but a few things remain: wonderfully soulful vocals and a pristinely twangy guitar sound, like no other in the business.
Making the stage very much his own with equipment and microphone lined up nicely stage right, along with drums and the bass players rig, a sense of imbalance is apparent, but as Cray strolls out in a pair of slacks, open shirt, and flip-flops it’s obvious that this is just how he likes it, and tonight he wants to feel at home performing songs he feels are the best, not just what the crowd so pleadingly want to hear.
The atmosphere is lacking somewhat – in part because of the venue, perhaps as a result of it being half seated – but, Cray does what he does best, strutting his unique blues sound and belting out vocals that could melt the hardest of hearts, and solos that are so unique to him as a guitarist you feel the presence of something a little special.
Ultimately, Robert Cray is a bluesman with a sight for continuously moving forward, not allowing himself or his music to stagnate and become irrelevant, and tonight’s performance illustrates just that.
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