After he and the rest of his road schooled Destroyers band had ripped through the boogie-centric bounce of “Get a Haircut,” George Thorogood took a moment to flash the electric grin that has become as synonymous with his live shows as his slide-savvy guitar work and bask in the fevered response a crowd assembled May 25 at the Lexington Opera House was awarding him.
Amid the ovation, one crowd patron began shouting out song requests with a hint of agitation that suggested it was time for the music to proceed. Thorogood would have none of it. Remarkably fit and tirelessly jubilant at age 67, he knew the moment was his.
“It took me 40 years to get up here, partner,” Thorogood replied to the fan. “I’m going to enjoy every sweet second of this.”
As well as should. But the 90-minute performance, which never faltered from its thundering, smartly paced and potently rhythmic flight pattern, was no indulgence. Thorogood has long been a disciple of the blues and boogie pioneers that came before him, having fashioned several of their staples into streamlined, loud-and-proud rock ‘n’ roll party pieces for a younger and — let’s just go ahead and say it — whiter generation. That explains how a jump blues gem like Rudy Toombs’ “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” first popularized by Amos Wilburn in the 1950s and more famously by John Lee Hooker in the 1960s was essentially appropriated by Thorogood in the 1970s. Thursday night, it was still a boogie tune at heart. But the carnival-like rock spirit the guitarist continues to invigorate the song with has lost none of its immediacy or accessible cheer.
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Ditto for Hank Williams’ “Move It On Over” and Elmore James’ “Madison Blues,” two very different roots music treasures Thorogood all but made his own four decades ago as celebratory showcases of untrendy, forthright performance machismo.
Mostly, though, a Thorogood show is about groove. As guitar heavy as tonight’s program was, the electricity summoned was very elemental. Songs were constructed around riffs, hooks and a level of rhythmic propulsion that prided itself on being uncomplicated. Sometimes the groove was so inherent in the song that Thorogood and the Destroyers simply hitched a ride to the obvious melodic gusto. Case in point: the insatiable beat behind the Bo Diddley classic “Who Do You Love?” that was piloted largely by longstanding Destroyers drummer Jeff Simon. Other tunes, like Mickey Bones’ “Twenty Dollar Gig,” the only work Thorogood put down his guitar for, yielded a more ensemble-generated drive.
Thorogood, of course, played the role of party host as readily as he did that of groove merchant. Early in the show, he joked how the Destroyers were all out on bail for the evening. Near evening’s end, he remarked how a talk with “management” during the encore break resulted in the Opera House’s performance curfew being lifted.
Nice try, George. That comment prompted a glance at the watch, which read 9:02 p.m. Youthful as the show was in spirit, it turned out there was one inevitability of age even rock ‘n’ roll couldn’t mask.
Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com