Photos & Story by Scott A. Smith
He’s 70 years old, yet rock giant Robin Trower effortlessly can make his guitar scream, smoke, cry and purr.
Like Rush did on May 8, Trower opened his new tour in Tulsa, Okla. on June 2. Bringing only bassist-singer Richard Watts and drummer Christopher Taggart with him, Trower got a lot of sound out of his Fender Stratocasters for an attentive audience inside the historic, always-intimate Cain’s Ballroom. The gray-blue light from a few cellphones peaked throughout the darkened venue, but 98 percent of the crowd either sat or stood and watched in near silence as Trower demonstrated how he’s still a six-string master.
Smiling and sporting spiky white hair, Trower first emerged from stage right to thunderous cheers and whistles from the co-ed fans. Wearing a dark-colored, button-down shirt, black pants and black shoes, the former Procol Harum member exuded a graciousness to the viewers. Trower seemed happy to be alive, with friends and with his guitars.
It became immediately apparent that Trower has lost virtually none of his fret-board abilities. His fingers are slightly lined with age, naturally, but those limber digits danced across the necks of his guitars. Trower, as usual, never overplayed. When Trower played quickly, it was because the song — or “the moment” — demanded it.
“Lady Love,” a groove-soaked, funkier brother to Bad Company’s “Movin’ On,” showed up early in a set that balanced must-play FM classics with tracks from Trower’s new CD, “Something’s About to Change.”
Watts and Taggart frequently proved to be an effective foundation for Trower’s guitar. Watts sang with a voice that was more Paul Carrack (Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics) than that of James Dewar, the late singer-bassist from Trower’s original solo band in the early 1970s. Trower’s modern-day rhythm section, like their leader, played with authority at Cain’s.
Trower’s ability to draw fans to concerts despite today’s society that seemingly prefers YouTube and Facebook was on full display inside Cain’s Ballroom.
“Man, this is happening on a Tuesday night, and look at all of these people here,” proclaimed one attendee while standing near the back of the venue.
When the epic “Bridge of Sighs” entered the picture, claps, whistles and cheers nearly matched the band in volume. The song’s main guitar riff stood proudly in its unique, dreamy-rock glory.
Equally mind-blowing for attendees was Trower’s true control of his guitar tones. A dozen different-sounding tones were heard emitting from Trower’s mini-mountain of Marshall amps. No out-of-place notes happened. Every guitar-tone setting was crisp and perfect.
The only first-night bumps that occurred were four short bursts of microphone feedback early in the evening. Trower, with a slight smile, glanced over into the stage-left wings moments before the technical glitches were stopped. Sans those few seconds of electronic squeakiness, Trower’s concert was a flawless affair.
On that Tulsa stage that has hosted gigs by Robert Plant, The Sex Pistols, Joe Cocker, Elvis Costello, The Killers, Foo Fighters, The Black Crowes, Wilco and seemingly countless others, Trower acted as a jack-of-all-trades with guitar in hand. Trower played delicately. Trower played employing brutal force. Trower, inside Cain’s Ballroom, simply did it all.