EDGAR WINTER AND his band take to the stage at 8.30pm on the dot; Winter wears a knee-length, red velvet military jacket. The venue could charitably be described as half full – but Winter and co seem unperturbed, ploughing straight into an opening number that doubles as their long-time mission statement: Keep Playin’ That Rock And Roll.
Winter sings from behind a stack of keyboards, pounding out a driving piano chord rhythm for this upbeat party-starter. His voice – once crystal clear and sonorous – has grizzled as he approaches his seventies, becoming less powerful but arguably more interesting for being rough around the edges. His characteristic falsetto crescendos remain and are more enjoyably demented than ever. Doug Rappoport and Koko Powell on guitar and bass provide strong backing vocals that lend substance to sing-along choruses, but on the three occasions they sing lead, their clean-cut voices leave you yearning for Winter.
Winter’s patter comes in a soft-spoken Texan twang between songs, gently informing the crowd that it’s “time to get down and do a little blues… if that’s alright” as he convincingly emulates a harmonica for the opening bars of blues-rock classic Tobacco Road. A throbbing bass-heavy hook kicks in and the gravel in his voice gives this song the bite it lacked in his original cover. Winter whips out his saxophone and starts duelling with Rappoport’s guitar line, finally setting the sax aside to deliver some frenziedly high-pitched a cappella at the song’s climax.
This is the beginning of an extended breakdown of call-and-response; Winter scats a series of increasingly complicated notes and rhythms at each of his band members, who repeat the sounds back at him using their respective instruments. It goes on for a surprisingly long time and isn’t as fun as they seem to think it is. After detours through a few bars each of Led Zep’s Heartbreaker and Kashmir, and Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love, Tobacco Road drops back in, surprising everyone who thought it had ended 10 minutes ago.
Winter still has the songwriting nous to crank out high-energy blues-powered riffs – Eye On You and Texas Tornado from his most recent album are catchy, if a little cheesy – which stand up alongside back catalogue staples like Free Ride. But all too often Winter’s fascination with the different kinds of noises he can make threatens to hijack the show.