Robert Cray didn't simply walk onto the stage Sunday night -- he sauntered.
In front of a packed house, Cray and his band proceeded to wow the audience with dazzling guitar and organ work coupled with a vivacious presence.
Cray is a five-time Grammy winner with one double platinum album, two gold albums and guitar that has been a driving force in the R&B world since the '80s.
At Cat's Cradle he offered up a mixed bag of rich, soulful blues and driving funk from the small, intimate stage.
While his subject matter didn't vary too much -- nearly every song dealt with heartache, lost love or cheating of some form or another -- Cray's infectious energy, syrupy-smooth voice and sheer musical ability carried the show and brought down the house.
Opening his set with the blistering guitar-driven set "I Shiver," the band covered the entire span of blues and funk, blending the two genres into seamless jams with extended improv solos.
Whimsical blues licks and a stand-up electric bass marked such songs as "No One Special," while Jim Pugh lit up the keyboards like he had 12 fingers in "Our Last Time."
Pugh and Cray were a study in perfection, complementing one another beautifully in a drawn-out series of keyboard and guitar riffs in "Where Do I Go From Here?"
Taking a backseat to the thumping rhythms was Cray's voice -- almost as versatile as his guitar. Trading the brooding sorrow of "Right Next Door" for the easy, upbeat feel of "Bouncin' Back," Cray stretched his vocal envelope to the fullest.
His fingers tended to outshine his lyrics, and his voice cracked at the highest notes, but these slight mistakes didn't slow Cray and his band down in the least.
And the raw emotion of his performance gave an added edge to his songs -- Cray's expression varied from an easy lady-killer grin to the anguished grimace of a repentant Don Juan.
The band's enthusiasm and good humor shone throughout the whole show.
Working the crowd during a brief pause between songs, Cray asked the audience "Who's got a broken heart?" Upon getting a less-than-heartbroken response, he mumbled playfully, "I've come to the wrong place."
The four musicians even returned to the stage after repeated demands for more and closed with the 1986 hit "Smoking Gun."
From saucy to soulful, Robert Cray and his band captured the vital essence of blues -- a slowly healing heartache covered with a ready smile and a smoldering guitar.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
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