Walter Trout's Livin' It Up
Buddy Guy's Legends - Chicago
July 2, 1999
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 1999, Volume 6, #8
Written by John Metzger
The long weekend surrounding Independence Day began with an explosive July 2nd performance from Walter Trout at Buddy Guy's Legends. The Chicago club was packed to the brim with blues fans, no doubt drawn by the venues' reputation and its proximity to the Taste of Chicago festival. Though there were quite a few Trout fans in the audience, a huge contingent of the crowd arrived simply to check out the scene. It didn't seem to matter much to the animated guitarist as he made certain to serve up something for everyone — just as he does on his latest release Livin' Every Day.
Over the course of the evening, Trout ripped solo upon solo with jaw-dropping dexterity. It was a truly awesome display of firepower that can only come from an extreme devotion to his instrument. Nevertheless, technical skill alone can easily become quite tedious to hear, turning into a rapid flurry of notes with no distinguishing sense of style, and what truly engages the listener is the emotion behind a performance. In reality, there are an awful lot of technically competent guitarists out there, but finding one with the chops who can also deliver an emotional wallop is an absolute rarity, and this is what makes Trout so good. He is one of the chosen few who can approach and embrace his music from both sides of the equation, yielding a picture-perfect blend of passion and proficiency at the heart of each of his songs. No doubt this is what John Mayall saw in him, which resulted in a five years stint with the Bluesbreakers in the '80s.
Trout is backed by an exquisite group of musicians known as The Free Radicals who function as both his touring and recording band. Consequently, they are quite familiar with the music, and from the moment they took the stage, they set a commanding presence that was often overwhelming. They muscled their way through songs like Take Care of Yo' Business and Walkin' in the Rain, both of which showcased Trout's gruff vocals and fiery guitar licks. Moreover, Livin' Every Day raged with an energetic affirmation of life as the band buttressed the passion and conviction contained in the lyrics.
While Trout is clearly in control of his group, he's not afraid to allow them to share the spotlight, and together they are capable of turning songs inside out in the blink of an eye. It was at these moments that they were truly at their best, coming together as a cohesive unit and carrying on in the same spirit and intensity as many of the great rock blues bands of the past. The subtler Sweet as a Flower was reminiscent of early Fleetwood Mac, and the newer Say What You Mean recalled vintage Santana as Paul Kallestad's floating organ groove and a pulsing rhythmic cadence united underneath Trout's searing lead.
In addition, I couldn't help but to compare Trout's performance to that of Stevie Ray Vaughan. The two guitarists share a broad-based view of the blues, and an almost unparalleled skill with their instruments. At times, it was downright eerie at how close Trout came to conjuring up Vaughan's spirit. It's no surprise then that the influence of Jimi Hendrix also pervaded the evening, and Trout even managed to throw in a few bars of Hendrix's Foxy Lady for good measure, though Voodoo Chile might have been even more appropriate.
Trout has long been ignored by American music fans, but over the past decade he has found a haven for himself in Europe, where he has achieved a respectable following. With time, his notoriety in the U.S. should improve, and Livin' Every Day, his third domestic album, is a giant step in the right direction. Trout is almost certainly a legendary guitarist in the making.
Copyright © 1999 The Music Box