Concert Review: Robert Cray -- On from the downbeat

Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Robert Cray and his band put on a stellar performance Saturday night at the Aud.

You could almost hear it as the band just looked at each other the second the lights hit them. Everyone absolutely was with the band on beat one. Within a few seconds it was clear that this night would be special. Bands, even great ones, usually need part of the first song to get their footing -- time to put everything in the pocket, time for the sound guy to get levels right. This didn't happen Saturday night at the Aud as Robert Cray and his band were locked into each other instantly. It wasn't just the band that made this night so special, the sound from the Aud staff was also instantaneously near perfect -- punchy enough to feel it in your chest, clear enough to hear any part from any instrument at any time, loud enough to make you smile and quiet enough to keep your ears from ringing. This room was made for music like Robert Cray.

The show kicked off with "I Shiver," a desperate minor key story about a haunted man who can't get the woman he wants. Underneath the clever lyrics, what made the song special was drummer Les Falconer keeping eighth notes on the hi-hat, which allowed bassist Richard Cousins to create the mood with a syncopated line that fit the song's angst to a tee.

The parts are what Cray's band does with the utmost style, taste, musicality and professionalism. In fact, never was a note out of place or overplayed. The band was jamming, but within the limitations of their parts. This is a quality that separates good bands from great. The Robert Cray band lives in the rarified air of the best.

Cray sang all the tunes and played all the solos. His vocals are expressive and dynamic, making each song a story unto itself. You can feel how the characters in these little short stories feel. His guitar solo work is simply his own. He's become one of those guitarists people can recognize with one or two notes -- like Santana or Albert King.

He is an inventive rhythm player, so much so that it takes his whole band to allow him to play the chords he does. His choices of chord voicings are dependent upon the keyboards playing pads that outline the simple harmonies (triads and maybe seventh chords) and the bass providing the roots (while he helps create the groove with the drummer) on the bottom. With the song's "simple" harmony in place, Cray comes up with some wild inversions and extensions on the top. He couldn't play these particular chords for a solo rendition of his tunes. This was some sophisticated stuff for a "blues" band.

Between the great music, great sound, the unique atmosphere of the Aud and the stellar audience, Eureka Springs enjoyed a night of world class music. Sorry if you were not there.