SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Seeing Blood Sweat & Tears in the '90s mustbe a lot like seeing the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the '60s: The heyday is over, almost all the principals have moved on, and the musicians left behind are faithfully re-creating the sounds of a bygone era for the longtime devoted fans.
Though BS&T still has its main man--singer David Clayton-Thomas, who replaced founding member Al Kooper in the group's fledging years--the horn and rhythm sections have rolled over at least a couple of times. But you probably wouldn't have noticed Friday at the Coach House, where the band sounded just like it did back in '69 when its "Blood Sweat & Tears" album charted at No. 1.
Anyone looking for sweeping changes, or even new material, would have been disappointed in Friday's show. But no one was.
What the assembled faithful did get was proof that BS&T's formula has legs, that its music has withstood the test of time. Indeed, in a world full of today's pop harmonic minimalism, the sound of trumpets, trombones, guitar and sax backing a singer somehow seems fresh, even if it has been around for so long. And that's something that would even make Dorsey smile.
Opening up with "Hi De Ho" (which was signaled by a reverent brass fanfare), Clayton-Thomas met right off the bat with a lot of audience participation. It was unclear at first whether he really wanted it, but he finally gave in, encouraging the folks to join in the familiar chorus as the song built to a fever pitch.
He moved directly into "And When I Die," with its in-the-saddle rhythms and cowboy instrumental break, and again his own performance was almost unnecessary as the audience outsang him. After a while this actually started cutting into his presentation: His attempts to vary his phrasing fell flat--because the crowd had already delivered the lines for him.
In any case, from there on out the show was rather predictable. Want "Spinning Wheel?" You got it. "You Made Me So Very Happy"? That one, Clayton-Thomas gurgled, would be "dedicated to the ladies."
There were a few departures from the parade of greatest hits. Guitarist Larry DeBari stepped forward to sing Kooper's blue anthem "More Than You'll Ever Know." Clayton-Thomas sang a tipsy "Gimme That Wine." "God Bless the Child" was given a vivacious Latin beat.
It also received a lusty trombone solo by Charlie Gordon. Other strong contributions were made by tenor saxophonist Tom Timko, keyboard player Cliff Korman and trumpet players Jerry Soklov and Steve Guttman.
The only instrumental effects that distinguished the show from 25 years ago, however, were from bassist Gary Foote, whose solid underpinnings and thumb-struck attack occasionally brought the music fast forward to the present.
For the most part, though, the evening belonged to Clayton-Thomas, who still has all the enthusiasm and buzz-saw roughness that gave his voice its distinctive quality way back when. Though his range may be a bit narrower these days (he passed over more than a few high-register tones, substituting a muffled growl), his pacing and his sense of drama are as good as ever.
It might be interesting to hear some new material from BS&T, but again, it wasn't really missed here. Musical presentation was the focus, and BS&T delivered.