DUKE ROBILLARD BAND at the Silver Dollar, November 2. Tickets: $16. Attendance: 150. Rating: NNN
never a flashy showman, singer/ guitarist Duke Robillard has always relied on solid musicianship and a crowd-pleasing repertoire to get over. He's comfortable with his job as an entertainer, mixing in-the-pocket jump blues and mid-tempo boogie breakdowns with a little Kansas City jive that goes down well with whatever happens to be on tap.
Challenging the Friday-night Silver Dollar crowd with experimental new blues strains of his own design was the furthest thing from Robillard's mind.
About as daring as he got -- apart from extending a B.B. King-inspired guitar run for a third bar -- was switching between effects pedals to emulate the vibrato warble Lonnie Mack would get from his Magnatone amp.
Robillard's greatest strength is his knack for assembling bands. It seems that no matter how many lineup changes he endures, he's always got dudes with serious chops behind him by the time he returns to Toronto.
The slouchy and bored-looking lot who came along for the ride on this trip didn't seem all that spectacular gazing blankly into space, but when saxophonist Doug "Mr. Low" James began answering Robillard's slinky runs with his own dirty, low-register growling, they proved to be an impressively tight little groove unit.
And getting a Toronto crowd on the dance floor -- without a turntable in sight -- is a feat more remarkable with each passing day.