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Concert Review: Robin Trower – The Birchmere, Alexandria, VA, 03/09/08

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Watching Robin Trower's Living Out Of Time (Live) concert DVD from 2006 really reignited my passion for the man's music. Along with most of his beloved classics, the DVD also featured four new songs from Trower's 2004 Living Out Of Time album, and they were all winners. Trower turned 60 years old the night of that show, and his guitar playing was still as impressive as ever. What is most impressive, though, is that Trower is still putting out some of the best new material of his career.

As a lifelong guitar fanatic, I have been wanting to catch Robin Trower play live since I was old enough to remember. Bridge Of Sighs was one of the first albums that I could ever call my own, thanks to my older brother bestowing it to me on my 10th birthday. As part of our birthday ritual – he'd buy me one album that I asked for (usually Kiss or Aerosmith at the time), and then he'd pick another one that HE thought I should have.

Let's just say that with a 12-year age difference between us, our tastes in music were quite different at the time. Bridge Of Sighs, however, was that rare album of my brother's choice that I immediately fell in love with, and it has remained one of my all time favorites to this day.

When I saw that Trower had booked a show right up the road from me at Alexandria, Virginia's Birchmere Music Hall this March, my opportunity to see this legendary British guitarist had finally arrived. The Birchmere is a wonderful, all table seating venue, with a seating capacity of about 500. My wife and I were some of the last ones to arrive for this sold out show, but we were still able to find great seats off to the right of the stage. There is not a bad seat in the entire place.

When I was looking over the review I had written for the Living Out Of Time (Live) DVD, I realized that this show also marked Trower's 63rd birthday. Before the show began Trower's manager informed the crowd of this special occasion and asked if we would sing happy birthday to Robin after he finished the second song. There was also a die-hard fan club member walking around asking people to sign a birthday card for Robin that was as tall as I am.

There was no warm up act for this show so Trower and his fantastic band of Pete Thompson (drums), Glenn Letsch (bass), and Davey Pattison (vocals) took the stage right at the 7:30 PM start time. I was hoping to hear a few selections from Trower's most recent albums, 2005's Another Days Blues, or his brand new collaboration with Jack Bruce, Seven Moons, but there would be no such indulgences this night. This tour features many songs that have not been played live for decades, or have never been played live, and that suited me just fine too.

Trower kicked off the show with the title track from his 1973 debut album, Twice Removed From Yesterday, and right away I was struck by how mesmerizing his unique guitar tone still sounds. Davey Pattison, who has been with Trower on and off since 1987's Passion album, was also in top form this night. Trower could not have asked for a better replacement for his great original lead vocalist, the late James Dewar. Just don't expect too much stage presence or insightful stage banter from either of these guys – just close your eyes and soak in the music.

The 17-song setlist weighed heavily on Trower's first three albums, as ten of the songs performed come from that trio. Bridge of Sighs received the most play with five songs, and also elicited the loudest crowd reaction. The mild mannered, 50-something year old gentleman sitting next to me suddenly turned into an air guitar wizard as soon as the first Sighs song, "The Fool And Me", was played. He underwent the same transformation for every other Sighs song as well, and then confessed to me after the show that Bridge Of Sighs was one of his top five favorite guitar albums of all time. He got no argument from me there, because it's probably in my top ten.

The acoustics at the Birchmere are usually pretty good, but there was an annoying problem with the sound mix this night. During the latter part of the show, the bass guitar became completely overdriven and distorted several times, nearly ruining a couple of the performances. People were just looking at each other thinking WTF? I was surprised that the problem didn't creep up during the sound check and get corrected, but maybe they didn't have enough time for a good sound check. Who knows. At least the guitar and vocals were clear and distinct, and that is what really mattered to me.

With this dazzling 90-minute Robin Trower performance, I was able to experience a few more of the greatest guitar songs ever laid down to vinyl – played by the very man who created them. "Too Rolling Stoned", "Day Of The Eagle", and "Bridge Of Sighs" are certainly deserving of that accolade in my opinion. Now all I need is for that Led Zeppelin reunion tour (?) to come my way, and then I can die a happy man. Is that too much to ask for?

Setlist
01. Twice Removed From Yesterday
02. Shame The Devil
03. For Earth Below

04. No Time
05. The Fool And Me
06. Roads To Freedom
07. Islands
08. Day Of The Eagle
09. Bridge Of Sighs
10. Rise Up Like The Sun
11. Victims Of The Fury
12. Gonna Be More Suspicious
13. Hannah
14. Little Bit Of Sympathy
Encore:
15. Too Rolling Stoned
16. Go My Way
17. Another Time Another Place

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