Robert Cray, The Mike Eldred Trio: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

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Robert Cray

Robert Cray cheers up a disappointed Everton fan, after seeing The Blues lose at soccer, Getintothis’ Steven Doherty gets a better Blues experience on Sunday evening at the Phil.

Seated gigs though.

They make for a sterile atmosphere, people squeezing in and out to use the facilities, not being sure whether to stand or sit because you don’t want to annoy the people behind.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand why bands play them.

Anyway, for those of you unfamiliar with his oeuvre, Robert Cray is a 5-time Grammy Award winning U.S Blues guitarist who has been regularly releasing albums since 1980.

He’s mainly regarded for his live work, most famously as regular support to Eric Clapton back in the 80s and 90s.

So that’s the history lesson, onto this evening.

Fresh from playing London’s O2 last night, he’s back at the Philharmonic, now seemingly a regular tour stop judging by the amount of times he has played there recently.

His support this evening are friends of his, The Mike Eldred Trio, on whose last album Baptist Town, Cray guested.

A subdued start with no introductions (they didn’t tell us their name until four songs in) is soon forgotten with rocky covers of Elvis’ Burning Love and The BeatlesCan’t Buy Me Love (preceded with an story about this being their first time in the UK, visiting John Lennon’s house today and not playing this song until they played Liverpool.)

By the time they ended with Hundred Dollar Bill, the crowd had completely warmed to them.

The drummer was dressed as a steam engine train driver and their merch stall, instead of t-shirts, was selling their own brand aprons, coffee and BBQ sauce. Different.

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After the interval, the 4-piece Robert Cray Band appear from the darkness and kick off with 2001’s Anytime.

The tight band, while all playing their part and who look like they are having a ball throughout, are led by Cray, the superstar, and it’s easy to see why he is regarded as one of the all-time greats.

He plays solos that are showy but never show-off, the changes here are guitars after each song rather than costume, but the crowd are hanging on every last note of it.

I love you Robbie” screams an enthused audience member, “I paid her to say that” says Cray, without missing a beat. Dry humoured and humble throughout, he is a natural focal point.

You Had My Heart, from his latest album “Robert Cray and Hi Rhythm” is the absolute standout. With an almost silent ending, all instruments at hushed noise levels, it’s spine-tingling.

The audience save their best reception of the evening for the main-set closing salvo of Bad Influence, Right Next Door and The Forecast (Calls For Pain), which leads to a standing ovation before and after the two-song encore.

So that’s why people play seated venues.

You just couldn’t imagine this gig at any other type of setting.

Sometimes all you need is a building full of polite silent reverence, with an audience captivated by the band in front of them, seated or otherwise.

Images by Getintothis’ Martin Waters

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