Last night I went to see Robben Ford live at the Blue Note Tokyo. Actually, I want to let that sentence sit there for a while. A year ago an experience like this might have been the highlight of my year. Now, it’s almost routine. There are so many good venues for music here in Tokyo & such a constant wealth of live music, local and touring. I’m still adjusting to this new reality.
So, yes; last night I went to see Robben Ford live at the Blue Note Tokyo.
A Day in Nashville
Robben Ford is touring to promote his new album, A Day in Nashville, a largely live in the studio blues/jazz/funk recording. Ford isn’t exactly famous, but he does have a loyal following and is in many ways a “musician’s musician,” the kind of player many quote as an influence and inspiration.
After early experiences playing and recording blues with Charlie Musselwhite and Jimmy Witherspoon, Ford came to prominence as a Jazz-Fusion player with L.A. Express, the Yellowjackets and Miles Davis as well as a session player on albums by Joni Mitchell and KISS.
But, it was the 1988 solo album, Talk To Your Daughter, which really established Ford’s name and marked the future direction of his career. This album had a huge impact on me, in fact, it inspired me to totally change the direction of my playing.
Since then, Ford has focussed on Blues, though his albums, from Truth (2007) to Bringing it Back Home (2013) and now with A Day In Nashville (2014) have marked a grittier and funkier turn in his playing. And, Ford’s albums have steadily featured more original compositions. So, in addition to blistering lead playing and sophisticated rhythm work, Ford has become an accomplished songwriter as well.
The Blue Note Tokyo Experience
Tokyo’s upmarket live venues, the Blue Note where I went last night and Billboard Live where I saw KT Tunstall last week (excellent show & great return to form for one of my favourite singer-songwriters) are really something else. If you have booked tickets you arrive and register at the ticket office, where you are handed your seat ticket for the night.
Then you are called, row by row, like boarding a flight and you enter the venue. There you are guided by a waiter to your table and given a menu. Your drinks and food come quickly, with most of the service done before the show starts. In the Blue Note, low, small tables mean you are really close to the stage and the vibe and sound of the room is great.
Once the show starts you don’t mobile phones and there is very little talking in the audience. In fact, it was kind of shocking to see one person, a non-Japanese female, pull out a phone & try to take pictures as the show started, only to be politely (but firmly) told by staff this was against the rules.
It’s an increasingly hard experience to find, watching live music as part of a quietly attentive audience, whose sounds, cheers, applause and comments are connected to the performance and who are experiencing the show directly, rather than mediated through an electronic device.
Robben Ford opened the show with Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky from Bringing It Back Home (2013) and played for just under two hours, drawing mostly from his last three studio albums as well as a few earlier tunes, like Chevrolet from Handful of Blues (1995) along with Lovin’ Cup and Supernatural from Supernatural (1998). He was in great form, playing a 1960 Fender Telecaster and a 1966 Epiphone Riviera through a Dumble Custom Overdrive amp. Ford pulled a wide variety of mostly crisp and milady overdriven sounds from his instruments and really opened up on a number of songs.
Ford had Ricky Peterson on Hammond Organ. Peterson, a regular fixture in David Sanborn’s band took solos on most songs with the highlight being his extended romp on Nothing To Nobody. Brian Allen played upright and electric bass and took occasional solos which really left me wanting more. Fast and detailed on the electric bass and expressive and rich on the upright, Allen really shone in the supporting rhythm role. Finally, Wes Little on drums laid out solid, funky grooves all night with the right balance of drive and feel.
Overall, it was a great experience – one of the best guitarists on the planet in one of the coolest and most grown up live venues you’ll find anywhere.