As guitarist for Procol Harum, Robin Trower proved himself equally adept at rhythmic spacing devices and beefy lead guitar work, while working within the limited context of that group's keyboard dominated instrumentation. When he formed his own band in the early 1970s, this experience would serve him well, allowing him to push the limited boundaries of the power trio format by playing rhythm and lead guitar in a virtually simultaneous manner. Mixing a healthy dose of the blues and psychedelia, Trower created a distinctive sound. Fuzz, feedback and distortion figured into Trower's playing, but unlike Hendrix, to whom he is so often compared, Trower's dominant tonal device was heavy reverb. Trower was also a master of note bending and whammy bar technique, but was rarely flamboyant about it, preferring to emphasize singular effective notes or chords into dreamy melodic washes of sound.
Trower's first two albums, Twice Removed From Yesterday and Bridge Of Sighs (released in 1973 and 1974 respectively), and the relentless touring in support of both, firmly established his reputation. This was particularly true in America, which never fully embraced Procol Harum, so when Trower recorded his third album, 1975's For Earth Below, it was during a most inspired and successful time in his career.
It was at this point that Trower began expanding the boundaries of his own music and the first step was to bring Bill Lordan on board, replacing drummer Reg Isadore. This had a significant and immediate impact, particularly in live performance. Lordan had the ability to rock heavy and hard, but was equally adept at other approaches; his high-energy cymbal work was often extraordinary, and he often added a funkier edge to the music. Lordan also inspired the soulful lead vocalist James Dewer, whose bass playing grooves became more elastic and creative.
Captured here is one of the first gigs promoting the release of For Earth Below, when Trower, Dewer and Lordan hit San Francisco to headline Bill Graham's Winterland. For Earth Below had been released just days prior to this performance and the group gives inspired readings of key new album tracks, while maintaining an emphasis on material from the previous album Bridge Of Sighs.
The group wastes no time getting down to business with a double dose of Bridge Of Sighs material. This begins with the sonic fury of "Day Of The Eagle," one of Trower's most recognizable numbers, immediately followed by the slow riff-heavy spaciness of the title track.
This opening assault prepares the audience for another fast-then-slow song combo, with two tightly executed numbers from the new album up next, beginning with the hard rockin' "Gonna Be More Suspicious" followed by the slow groove of "Fine Day." Trower's use of wah-wah and his dreamy washes of sound combine with Dewer's soulful vocals to fully blast all of these performances into the stratosphere.
From here on out, the group delivers an impeccable selection of their best material, including two more enduring tracks from the new album, "Alethea" and a ferocious "Confessin' Midnight." Several highlights from the first album also get thorough workouts, including a highly extended "Daydream," 'I Can't Wait Much Longer" and an incendiary "Rock Me Baby" which closes the set, immediately eliciting howling for more.
Many fans may best enjoy the remaining Bridge Of Sighs material, including Dewer in great husky vocal form on the catchy "Lady Love," "Little Bit Of Sympathy" and a highly engaged encore of "The Fool And Me." However, the standout performance may indeed be the extended bluesy rendition of "Too Rolling Stoned" that here ventures into areas totally unexplored on its studio counterpart. With the new rhythm section jelling nicely, this takes on a pulsating subtle funk feel and changes tempos midway, allowing Trower to solo in a far more creative manner.
Any rough edges thoroughly enhance these performances and Trower, Dewer and Lordan are all in outstanding form. This entire concert (which can also be viewed in it's entirety in the Video Vault) is a fine example of Trower's strongest material performed by the most potent lineup of his band.
-Written by Alan Bershaw