It was a crisp night in Newtown, Sydney, but that’s okay because we were in for a treat: an evening at the Enmore Theatre where the excitement which swirled through the air was thick and warming. For on this night, we would be graced by the presence of contemporary Blues royalty, five-time Grammy award winner Robert Cray. Cray’s album with Hi Rhythm from last year received exceptional reviews (some of his best ever in fact) and was nominated for a Grammy, while recently winning Soul Blues album of the year at the Blues Music Awards. He has twenty studio releases under his belt, all of which are infused with his unique genre blend of Soul, Blues, Rock, Funk, and Reggae.
The crowd had been primed well with the tunes of Aussie Blues-Rocker Amanda Emblem, and the harmonica soaked sound of the Continental Blues Band (featuring Continental Robert Susz of the 80s soul/pop group the Dynamic Hepnotics). Robert and the band really got the venue pumping, playing his hit “Soul Kind of Feeling” among a few Blues classics, and ending with a very pleasing rendition of Little Walter’s “Up The Line”.
The following 15 minute interval was almost unbearable with the suspense to see Cray. Meanwhile, a group of folks behind us were chatting about the other great acts that had come through the Enmore’s doors over the years, including Jeff Healey and Mark Knopfler. And then… “Ladies and gentlemen…” The booming voice-over gave the usual announcements and introduction, and through the dimmed setting of the stage we could see Robert Cray put on his sunburst Stratocaster while the rest of the band followed and equipped their instruments. They segued into playing along with the funky Blues instrumental projecting from the speaker system and the lights came up and little twinkles of golden streamer squares gently rained down in a celebratory cluster of elation.
Across the night, Cray and his super-tight band filled the theatre with a wall of sound. This was coming from only four gentlemen, doing what they do best. On keyboards/Hammond organ (paired with Leslie rotating speaker) was the highly accomplished Dover Weinberg, sometimes nicknamed the ‘Blues slut’ because he’s played with everyone (incl. Albert Collins and Charlie Musselwhite). The drums were commandeered by soulful session man Terence Clark, who has been mentored by the great Steve Jordan. You can tell Clark is a versatile player, who would be just as comfortable laying down beats for hip-hop, as he would for Memphis Soul or Chicago Blues.
Long time Cray sideman Richard Cousins was on the bass, making his task look like the easiest thing ever; he bops along to the groove, chewing gum, and most of the time not needing to look where he fingers his notes (the backbone of Cray’s sound) because after performing on a huge chunk of Cray’s discography; he knows exactly where they are.
(I was quite gleeful to see Cousins there, knowing that Cray holds him in very high regard, and he’s on all the top Cray records.)
Last, but obviously not least, the man, the legend himself, providing smooth Sam Cooke like vocals (his falsetto and vibrato are outstanding), and stingingly clean rhythm AND lead guitar (at this show amplified by three crystal clear Fender Super Reverbs).
The set list was quite satisfying considering there were elements of old and new. We got Cray classics like “Poor Johnny”, “Right Next Door”, “I Shiver”, and “Chicken in the Kitchen”. A couple of songs from the Hi Rhythm album appeared, including “I Don’t Care” and the Tony Joe White penned “Aspen, Colorado”. Between most songs Cray would comment in a fun and joking way, adding more comfort to the experience.
“Around this time of the set, I get a bit hungry.” He said before “Chicken in the Kitchen”. And then, “Did that make you hungry?!” after the song.
The show ended with one of his signature songs “Time Makes Two”, an emotional piece of music which made us appreciate the time we were fortunate to spend with The Robert Cray Band on that cool night in Newtown, Sydney, Australia.
Next up, Cray and his band are heading to Melbourne and then Hindmarsh, before hitting the Blues on Broadbeach Music Festival on the Gold Coast, Queensland. On the 13th of June, Robert Cray kicks off a new tour in the U.S., starting in New York.
Review by Ethan Burke