No doubt Duke Robillard's cameo on Bob Dylan's Grammy-winning Out Of Time album raised the former Roomful of Blues guitarist's profile considerably. Even so, the shoulder-to-shoulder turnout for Robillard's Toronto return was a bit surprising.
There's nothing remotely revolutionary in what Robillard's horn-backed combo puts down, and that's evidently the attraction. On a Saturday night at the Silver Dollar, the folks wanted their jump blues straight-up without any fancy changes, and Robillard's flash-free crew were happy to oblige.
Dressed in various shades of grey, with Robillard sporting a suit that could've come straight off Harry Rosen's racks, they looked more like a Bay Street accounting firm than nightclub showmen.
The jazzy, laid-back instrumental number that began the proceedings, revealing the effects of Robillard's recent collaboration with Herb Ellis, set the evening's mellow tone. With a minimum of onstage movement, the pace quickened marginally as they progressed through the set list, moving from mid-tempo shuffles to slightly more sprightly jump blues swingers.
Robillard kept things snapping along in a businesslike fashion, taking off only at predesignated points to flaunt the licks he's picked up from Duane Eddy, Chuck Berry and T-Bone Walker. Much like his choice of attire, Robillard's solos were comfortably conservative, designed to make a statement of quiet confidence and sophistication rather than head-turning originality or extravagance.
He definitely isn't Mr. Excitement and he doesn't have much of a voice, but Robillard knows how to work a crowd. He proved as much with a masterfully laid cover of Freddie King's You've Got To Use What You've Got, which drew whooping applause for a bare minimum of string-twisting.
After watching Robillard shrewdly trade verses with the horn section to preserve his pipes, this tune gets my vote as his theme song.