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Review: Robert Cray at Sage Gateshead

A slick concert by the Robert Cray Band lacked variety but impressed nonetheless found Martin Ellis

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Jeff Katz Photography Legendary blues guitarist Robert Cray
Legendary blues guitarist Robert Cray

The concert opened with young singer-songwriter Azadeh who stood on the big stage in Hall One looking vulnerable.

The vulnerability, however, lent her stage persona a certain aura. With a great voice, emotional songs and a sensitive guitarist, she managed to pull off the difficult job of entertaining a room full of people who have come to see someone else.

The Robert Cray Band took to the stage with a schmaltzy corporate announcement and backing music which I found a little worrying.

Were we about to get an evening of flashy guitar and rock-posturing?

As soon as Cray himself greeted the audience, I felt relieved. His manner was relaxed, friendly and, perhaps surprisingly for one of the world’s greatest living blues guitarists, happy.

Cray’s current band comprises old school friend and original band member Richard Cousins on bass, Dover Weinberg on organ and piano, who played with the band back in the 1970s, and Les Falconer on drums who joined last year.

One of the highlight’s for me was Weinberg. When his organ wasn’t providing accompaniment to Cray’s guitar, it was setting the groove for the band.

Whenever Cray announced a song from his well-loved back catalogue, he received an enthusiastic response from his passionate audience.

Clearly many in the Sage had been following Cray for much of his 40-year career. Sitting On Top of The World, I Can’t Fail, Bad Influence and many other songs were warmly received.

The Robert Cray version of the blues has a dominant soul vein running through both guitar playing and singing.

Cray’s voice and stage demeanour impressed me just as much as his skills as a guitarist.

The concert was slick, the band was tight and the performance was highly polished.

I found the set did lack variety, with the tempo more or less consistent from start to finish, but outstanding musicianship and a crystal clear sound sent the fans home happy.

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