Monday, June 8, 2015

Robben Ford Band with David Grissom, Matt Schofield - Live Without A Net! - Gig Report

Robben Ford Band featuring David Grissom with guest star Matt Schofield
Harris Center
Folsom, California
June 7, 2015

There's nothing like spending a warm Sunday evening in the company of three great guitarists. Robben Ford is on the road supporting his new album, Into The Sun, and he proved to be a magnanimous guitar god, as he shared his stage with David Grissom as co-guitarist for the West Coast dates, and the added treat of a few tunes with British guitar star Matt Schofield. Musical sparks flew from the beginning to the end, but let there be no doubt, this was Robben Ford's stage, and he commanded it like a king.

I had seen several days earlier notification that David Grissom would be joining the tour, but it wasn't very clear as to what his role would be, and I wrongly surmised that he would be supporting Ford as an opening act, when in fact he was there as a member of Ford's band. I was even more blown away when I found out that they would be hitting the road with zero rehearsals. He was joining Ford, bassist Brian Allen, and drummer Wes Little, who both were inspiring in their expert work as a rhythm section (especially in their solo sections, which revealed the wider scope of their stellar skills), and to think that they were covering the broad boundaries of Ford's immense musical palette without out rehearsals was most astonishing.

Robben Ford is a musician who transcends labels via his sheer musicality. Whether he's blowing some sophisticated jazz, some rock 'n' roll with some absurdly cool twists, a countrified slice of elaborate harmony, or blazing the blues in a decidedly unconventional and refreshing manner, he belongs to that group of guitarists who stand atop the heap of the six string universe. His imagination and knowledge combine in an alchemic way that at once is intellectually stimulating while also being emotionally on target. His soloing is consistently bold and brash, while his deft rhythm work is as solid and moving as that of Richards and Townshend, even (and maybe especially) when he was comping behind the other guitarists solos. There is an amazing amount of harmonic sophistication to everything he touches, but you never get lost in the high altitude of musical complexity. It all makes sense, even to the casual listener.

Just before the rhythm section's solos created a de facto intermission for the guitarists, the band was joined by a surprise in the way of British bluesman Matt Schofield, who brought his supercharged Strat-fueled licks out on display, and while he may not have the amount of sophisticated wizardry I find in the playing of either Ford or Grissom, he certainly has a mastery of every blues lick known to man, and the near sold out audience hung on his every note. I will say that at times during Schofield's mini set that Grissom looked a bit left out as Ford and Schofield traded eights (and more), and David was left to comp behind them. Again, sometimes these things happen in the heat of the moment when you are live without a net.

Allen and Little's solos were like a wake up call. Sure, they were handling the set like the best pros do, but when they got a moment to express their own vision, the gloves came off, and both gentlemen owned the audience for a bit of time while the guitarists took a breather.

When Ford and Grissom came back out, it was as if they had been re-energized magnificently - straight away Ford gave Grissom the first solo in the next song, and Grissom took the ball and ran with it magnificently. He was suddenly operating at full capacity, and maybe any signs of duress or fatigue may have simply been the result of a very quick week of playing very, very demanding material unheard, and without even a practice session. Regardless, the second half of the show transcended the first, as Ford brought out some rocking material from one of his favorite projects, the criminally overlooked Renegade Creation, a band made up of Ford, Michael Landau, Jimmy Haslip, and Gary Novak that produced one album in 2010, and for the remainder of the evening the band looked like one large and happy family that just happened to be made up of four exceptional musicians.

Robben Ford is one of the greatest living guitarists. He follows his own muse, and that means he often operates from a position outside the mainstream, but his music exists in some rarified air. I have a very good feeling that Ford has been doing this for many lifetimes, and music is something he does as easily as breathing. There is nothing lacking from his toolkit, and he is a true innovator. On this night he wielded but one Telecaster and one old Strat, and the tone produced by these instruments and his dependable Dumble Overdrive Special amplifier was as great as any guitar tone I have ever heard. He was perhaps fifteen percent louder than anyone else on the soundstage, but it was his band, his show, and his songs, so he has earned that. Everyone should have the experience of hearing what Ford makes come out of his rig. It is everything you could wish for, in terms of guitar tone. Mind you, I'm saying that with the full realization of how great Grissom's self-designed PRS guitar and amp sound when combined with his almost deceptively brilliant playing, but the tone I was hearing out of Ford was a pinnacle.

(Edit: In an e-mail conversation with David Grissom after the show, he told me that he'd been having some problems with his amp, as it had been dropped the day before. He apologized for having a night that was as he put it, "Not at my best", but even in these conditions most of what he played was astounding and as tasteful as usual. This may go a ways in explaining why Robben's rig sounded so much louder in this context.)

I'd love to see what this quartet could come up with in a true collaboration, for the display they put on last night in Folsom was incendiary by any measure, even with a few warts resulting from the vagaries of touring in this modern age. It was an awesome night of guitaristic fireworks, and musical beauty.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your review. I believe Brian Allen has played with Robben before. If I'm not mistaken, it was a concert in Bodega where I sat 1st row. The mix I heard at Bodega was perfect - every instrument had a special clarity. From 6 rows at Harris and closer to Grissom, I did not get that effect. The mix was muddy from my seat. When the band cut back to minimal you could pick it up again. Was it my location??

Tony Conley said...

No, it was a weird night for the sound itself. Mind you, everything else I have read about he tour has raved, so I'm guessing that maybe the Harris doesn't do a lot of your louder shows (and that certainly wasn't that loud at all), and for whatever reasons the acoustics weren't quite where we would have liked them. I'll also add that Robben's tone coming out of his amp may have been a pinnacle for me as a lifelong student of guitar tones. That was amazing, as was Robben's playing. Thanks for your comment, it helps me better understand the night, as well.

MartyB said...

Thanks for the review. Looking forward to the show in Phoenix tomorrow - the last of David's on this tour, I believe. BTW, Renegade Creation did have a 2nd album that flew way under the radar: "Bullet" released in 2012. MartyB

steve0 said...

Great review of 3 brilliant and exciting, but sadly overlooked, guitarists! Thanks for sharing, but now I'm ever so jealous for not having seen it!! :-o

Tony Conley said...

Thanks, Marty - I think in the back of my head I remember Robben saying two albums by Renegade Creation. Now I have to go find it! Cheers!