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POP MUSIC REVIEWS

Buddy Guy Turns Up the Heat for Cocker

August 05, 1996|STEVE APPLEFORD

Buddy Guy has advice for young lovers. At the Universal Amphitheatre on Saturday (in a concert that also featured Joe Cocker and the Fabulous Thunderbirds), Guy offered it as he always has: with explosive bursts of blues guitar and crowd-pleasing humor.

"We're going to make it so funky you can smell it," the Chicago bluesman promised early on, standing in front of the logo of the tour's sponsor, the House of Blues.

Guy showed himself a master of extremes, unafraid to bring the volume of his lead-playing to a level that was barely audible before returning to his ecstatic, tortured leads. If his set's pacing was sometimes jarring, and perhaps too generous with solos from band members, it was always redeemed by the playing. Guy strolled deep into the crowd, posed for a snapshot and found a seat, all while playing a euphoric succession of mournful, inspirational notes.

After that, even an eccentric blues-pop shouter like headliner Joe Cocker was left in a compromised position. Cocker was at his best with the slowest material, ballads flavored with a touch of gospel, his vocals pushed to the edge of tears.

This unlikely British '60s hit maker was a frequent presence on the charts up through the late '80s. Unfortunately for Cocker, the night's best moments were overwhelmingly with the old hits, from his epic version of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends" to the '80s innuendo of "You Can Leave Your Hat On."

The Fabulous Thunderbirds performed their usual boot-stomping boogie, playing with sweat too often missing from their studio work. More about playing than songwriting, the T-Birds offered a set that mixed less-involving original material with more formidable blues chestnuts, but frequent blasts of blues harp from singer Kim Wilson helped you forget.

* Joe Cocker, Buddy Guy, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the Radiators play Tuesday at the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion, 2575 Glen Helen Parkway, Devore, 6 p.m. $37.50, $27, $17.50. (909) 886-8742.

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