It wasn't pretentious or pedantic, but Duke Robillard delivered an authoritative seminar in expert blues guitar-playing this past weekend.
A founding member of Roomful of Blues in the 1960s, guitarist for the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the 1990s and a constantly touring bandleader, the 62-year-old Robillard also is a busy teacher, marketing DVDs and online lessons. His performance at Plaza Palomino was preceded by a brief panel discussion.
But the reason everyone packed the house was to hear Robillard play. And play, he did, leaning on a stool, cool and serene, demonstrating his seeming effortless facility with the six strings, and backed by a capable support band (keyboards, drums and double bass).
Robillard began the concert, which lasted a little more than 90 minutes, with a laid-back jazz-blues stroll, coaxing Wes Montgomery-style magic from his big, hollow-body Epiphone, while the synthesizer made like a Hammond B3 organ. House-rockin' R&B followed in the form of "Jump the Blues for You." With his elegantly swinging style—he played a gorgeous instrumental version of "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)," made famous by Les Paul and Mary Ford—it was tempting to wonder if Robillard lacked grit. Well, he proved otherwise with an explosive interpretation of T-Bone Walker's "You Don't Love Me" and a few rollicking, boogie-woogie-inspired numbers. He also brought a joyous Louis Prima-style vibe to the standard "Just Because," quoting from "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" and then easing into some brilliant variations during his solo.
Although the crowd was hesitant at first, the wooden dance floor was eventually put to good use, as several audience members scooted, twisted and wiggled in boots and Birkenstocks.
In concert, Robillard proved himself to be a gentleman and a true guitar-master, a journeyman whose years of experience are displayed in every lick. Whether he was playing a long-adored and familiar melody, improvising a searing solo or comping while his band members took turns in the spotlight, he played with taste, economy, precision and natural fluidity.
But it probably wasn't necessary to explain to the audience that the song "Rhode Island Red Rooster" is a double-entendre. Kinda takes the fun out of it.