Fundamental things about George Thorogood, blues-rock showman: He prances about the stage copying cocky Jagger moves, he flirts relentlessly with ladies closest to the stage, and he knows how to pace a proper boisterous set. He also begins shows with the incantation “And away we go!”
Thorogood and his band The Destroyers, hard workers for the past four decades, played a rollicking Friday gig at Canalside, a very balmy and festive night. The crowd, first clinging to shady patches for a heat reprieve, continued to fill up the venue as the headliner was 30 minutes in, evidence perhaps that Buffalo’s blues crowd is accustomed to later club shows.
In his customary bandanna and sunglasses, Thorogood greeted the cheering crowd with “Born to be Bad,” from the 1980s – and a burst of spins, grins and finger-pointing. And then it was on to a rockabilly vibe with “Rock Party” before he and the incredible Destroyers slid into a slow, sexy rendition of 1950s Bo Diddley anthem (that he’s made one of his own) “Who Do You Love?” as projections of flames on screens behind each of the four band members licked away.
Saxophonist Buddy Leach, newest member of the band, added ultra-expressive riffs in extended jams, moving to the front of the stage in his bright pink shirt and beret. Thorogood’s repeated question gave the lyrics haunted poetry, it was great blues alchemy – and things were just getting rolling. When Thorogood interjected the line “Buffalo fans just can’t be beat,” mid-song, it was met with a roar.
“Hot damn, here I am, welcome to the Friday night rock party,” the bandleader said before proclaiming, “I will do everything in my power to get arrested tonight.”
It was during mega-hits “I Drink Alone” and “Move It On Over” that pauses in the action let the audience fill in the lyrical blanks with gusto. This was a party indeed.
It was way into the set, after a rollicking “Bad to the Bone,” one of the greatest stuttering rock songs of all time, that he introduced the band: guitarist Jim Suhler, drummer Jeff “One Cymbal” Simon (no relation to the Buffalo News critic of same name, I asked), Leach and himself. “And I’m George, I can’t sing, I just drink with the band.”
A white bandanna was tossed onstage; Thorogood wrapped the gift around his neck (he’d gone offstage to change into an Old Glory-printed bandanna) later in the show for the encore – “Madison Blues.” Mid-song, fireworks following the nearby Buffalo Bisons game were exploding and provided a great send-off as he ended with a shot on stage, and then doused some audience members with a glass of water.
Thorogood fans Mark and Gail Black were among the crowd, their first time at Canalside and a concert on the site. The couple, back in Buffalo after 25 years away, commented on the changes in the city.
“The last time I was down here,” Mark said, “it was a dump, it was terrible. My father worked over there at that grain elevator, at International Multifoods. We moved back a week ago. We’re surprised at what’s happened down here.”
Thrilled to be back, they’re now house shopping.
Patti Parks Band, a local blues group, got things underway while the sun was still scorching. Playing mostly originals, “getting great critical reviews throughout the world,” and off of her release “Cheat’n Man,” a small selection of covers was mixed into the set. Parks hit the stage in sparkling black cigarette pants and pink stiletto heels, her voice sultry.
Bandmates Guy Nirelli on keyboard, drummer Ray Hangen, bassist Mark Harris, guitarist Frank Grizanti – and horn section Gerry Youngman on trumpet and saxophonist Jack Prybylski – were in perfect blues form. Her title track as well as Howlin’ Wolf’s bouncing “Who’s Been Talking?” were high points.
In the night’s middle slot was long-haired and extra-long-bearded alt-country Fifth on the Floor from Lexington, Ky., out on a portion of the Destroyers tour.
“You got here early for the Kentucky boys, didn’t you?” asked lead singer and guitarist Justin Wells.
It took them approximately 20 minutes into their set for Wells to declare “Buffalo, I love this town, you drink Genesee Beer, and Labatts,” mispronounced as luh-BOT.
The audience corrected that cultural error, swiftly. They were a blend of southern rock artistry and charm. Expect to hear more from them on lineups to come. After their set, Wells and lead guitarist Ryan Clackner made their way through the crowd, several audience members stopping them for photos.