Rock riddle: How would a Robin Trower concert sound without songs from his "Bridge of Sighs" album?
OK, that's an exaggeration, but only a slight one. Performing at the Coach House on Tuesday, he built his set around material from "Bridge of Sighs," which you would expect if "Sighs" was his latest release. But that album is nearly 15 years old.
Indeed, the whole evening had a disorienting, new/old quality, like Peabody and Sherman had set the Wayback Machine for the mid-'70s and something had gone awry.
There was Trower performing before a sold-out, wildly enthusiastic crowd, but the venue was a 450-seat nightclub, rather than the massive arenas the Englishman regularly headlined in his mid-'70s heyday, when he scored three consecutive Top 10 albums.
He was backed by a crack band that strongly recalled the style and muscular force of his earliest outfits, right down to Davey Pattison's husky, soulful singing--sounding exactly like the vocalmen Trower has teamed with over the years from James Dewar to Jack Bruce.
And the set list! Trower opened with "Too Rolling Stoned" (from "Bridge of Sighs"), moved into something from his forthcoming LP "Take What You Need" (a slow blues workout that wouldn't have been incongruous on "Bridge of Sighs"), lit into the wah-wah tour de force "Day of the Eagle" (from "Bridge of Sighs"), then eased into the title track of "Bridge of Sighs". . . Well, you get the idea.
Throughout it all, the non-singing Trower appeared vaguely disconnected from the proceedings--he spoke to the crowd maybe three times--as he reeled off torrents of Hendrix-inspired solos. There is no question that Trower is a guitar hero extraordinaire --deft and expressive on racing, feisty rockers (like the new "Tear It Up") and on slower, atmospheric numbers (like--does this ring a bell?--"Bridge of Sighs").
Clearly, Trower is a virtuoso, and his fret-slinging yielded some truly electrifying moments. Unfortunately, there were just as many boring--or, at least, uninvolving--moments.
Maybe that was because he tended to really stretch out on most numbers, continuing past the point of intriguing melodic or harmonic possibilities; maybe it's because he's not an especially charismatic performer, so when his playing did cross into Dullsville, there wasn't much else to hold our interest.
Or maybe it's that, given all the truly exciting contemporary music around these days, 1974-vintage rock (and the "new" songs previewed Tuesday sounded pretty much interchangeable with those from "Sighs") just isn't all that captivating in 1988.
Which isn't to say there's not an audience for Trower's time-warp rock: He closes a sold-out three-night stand at the Coach House tonight, then returns to the club for another performance Feb. 6.
Until then, slip on your bell-bottom pants and platform shoes, set the dial to your favorite "classic rock" station and stay tuned.