Bobby "BLUE" BLaND with David Owen at the Silver Dollar, January 16. Tickets: $35. Attendance: 200. Rating: NNN
sure, it's fabulous to see soulblues great Bobby "Blue" Bland close up in an intimate club setting, but an informal ambience can sometimes lead to an informal performance. That could be the reason Bland decided to appear at the Silver Dollar in a purple warm-up suit rather than his usual sharp outfit. Likewise, his anemic horn section didn't feel compelled to adhere too closely to their charts.
Trumpet-playing bandleader Joe Hardin was clamming frequently enough to give some people the impression he was playing free. Each bum note caused the seated Bland to turn sharply and shoot him a "What've you been smoking?" gaze, and he did that a lot during the first set.
Even though Bland just put out a new disc, Blues At Midnight (Malaco), the old-school entertainer had no intention of using the show to plug it, no matter how great the new material. Instead, he stuck with the familiar 60s repertoire he knew most people came to hear him sing -- Farther Up The Road, St. James Infirmary, I Pity The Fool, etc -- mostly avoiding the medley temptation.
This wasn't the commanding Bland of the past, however. At 72 going on 73, the singer's voice is now reduced to a soft whisper that was often drowned out by the horn blasts and cymbal crashes.
Whenever he needed a mid-song breather, he'd cue guitarist Charleton "CJ" Johnson for another lengthy solo. A little audience participation could also provide a few valuable moments of rest, or so Bland thought.
"C'mon up here, honey, and help me sing this next song," coaxed Bland, looking in the direction of a Silver Dollar staffer with afro puffs. As the game volunteer approached the stage, the whole audience began to roar.
Hardin shouted, "Hang on, Bobby! That's a dude!" The nearsighted Bland bent forward for a closer look. Clearly embarrassed by his faux pas, he chuckled, "Son, you need to change that hairstyle" and quickly started into a slinky cover of Bill Withers's Ain't No Sunshine amid the howling laughter.
Noting a young woman upfront singing along in key, Bland invited her up, and local singer/songwriter Serena Ryder eagerly obliged.
Once she breezed through the soulful moaning audition, Bland had the band kick into Stormy Monday Blues, which he assumed Ryder would know. She didn't. So Bland patiently fed her each line, and she belted them out like a pro to the delight of the crowd.
Cute youngsters and animal acts are always tough to follow. Bland wouldn't have given it a thought before the heart operation, but he's not the showman he was 10 years ago, and he knows it. He abruptly called the first set to a close and split back to his bus to rest.
And for the second set, the band and Bland warmed up firstname.lastname@example.org