At 6 p.m. last Friday (Feb. 22), there were a few drinkers at the far end of the long bar at B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York. But the tables were already filled by folks who had presumably skipped out of work a bit early for an up-close glimpse at blues vet Robert Cray.
Once Cray and his band hit the stage just after 8, it was clear the devotees were going to get their money’s worth, as he and his well-oiled blues machine pumped out favorites from the past as well as a few new head-bobbin’, soon-to-be blues hits.
At B.B. King’s, it seems easy for bands to improvise and get lost with the crowd. But Cray and his band stuck to the set list, providing a welcome consistency throughout the night.
The band’s equipment was standard operating gear, with some minor modifications. Cray played from a relic Fender Deluxe Vibrato amp, which we have not seen used in decades. Attached to the Fender were two Matchless amps and bottoms providing that unmistakable Robert Cray sound.
Cray’s tremolo guitar is his signature, but there’s much more than that on display. His voice is a harmonious blend of soul, blues and right-on-the-money, unwavering tone quality — pitch perfect, as they say.
To everyone’s surprise, including, apparently, the band’s, trumpeter Mark Pender (from “Late Night With Conan O’Brien) strolled on stage in the middle of “The One in the Middle” for a guest spot.
Cray, with his wedding ring worn proudly, isn’t just the leader of the usual four-piece band playing the usual blues gigs. He defines consistency — no sour notes, perfect hand positioning and a unique blend of vocal and instrumental talent. What more could you ask for?
Here is Robert Cray’s set list:
“I Shiver All Over”
“Our Last Time”
“Sitting on Top of the World”
“The One in the Middle”
“Time to Make 2”