Ry Cooder at Cadogan Hall
It was quite enough of a thrill to hear Ry Cooder, having temporarily banished his excellent band, singing Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man”, long a staple of his repertoire, at Cadogan Hall last night. But a couple of minutes in, he took a left turn with some new words:
Trayvon Martin was only 17 years old when he took a little trip down to the grocery store / Well, he might have gone on to be President / But that’s something we’ll never know / Because he ran into a vigilante man…
In the handful of seconds that it took to sing those words, the temperature of the room changed. Channeling the menacing throb of one of John Lee Hooker’s talking blues, Cooder sang about the killing of Trayvon Martin and followed the thought into a rap about Brett Kavanaugh, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. And the audience went with him, all the way.
Once upon a time, Cooder could fill Hammersmith Odeon eight nights in a row. Enough of us are left to have filled Cadogan Hall at least as many times. This, however, was the only show, and I was lucky to get a ticket at the last moment. And how glad I was to be given the chance to hear him, in his 72nd year, singing and playing and organising musicians with as much zest and enthusiasm as you could wish for.
The band featured his son Joachim on drums, Mark Fain on bass guitar, Sam Gandell on alto and bass saxophones, and three singers known as the Hamiltones, from North Carolina: Toni Lelo, 2E and J. Vito. The material was a combination of old favourites — “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live”, “Jesus on the Mainline”, “Go on Home, Girl”, “Down in the Boondocks”, “Little Sister” — and songs from his new gospel-based album, The Prodigal Son.
That emphasis thrust the singers into the spotlight, and they thrived in it. Their own featured spot included a song called “Highway 74” (with Lelo on Mayfield-style guitar) that showed them to be in the tradition of groups like the Spinners and the Manhattans. The gospel power was turned to full beam for “99 and a Half” and a gorgeous treatment of Carter Stanley’s “Harbour of Love”, much richer and more resonant than the album version.
Cooder played some fine solos on a number of instruments, including an electric mandolin. He gave several spots to Gandell, who produced a house-wrecking bass sax solo on “The Very Thing That Made You Rich” as well as using a harmoniser and other effects on his alto — its bell muted with a cloth — to provide atmospheric backgrounds.
“See you next time or in heaven, whichever comes first,” Ry said at the end. For the final encore, concluding a two-hour show, he wisely shone the light back on to the singers, inviting them to deliver “I Can’t Win” with an intensity that left the hall drained. As long as there are still people who can sing like that, all is not lost.
* If anyone knows who took the very nice photograph above, which comes from the promotional material, I’ll add a credit.
Yes, lovely show and such good sound. Really, he could have sold out many nights. Spotted Eric Clapton in the pews, obviously picking up some guitar tips. Come around again, Ry.
Would that not be my buddy Mark Fain on bass?
It was/is. Thanks, Sid. I’ll correct.
Eish! this review makes me ache to have been there. Wonderful piece, thank you Richard.
Glad you managed to get a ticket ,and seems like a remarkable evening in Ry’s good company. Seeing him and his band in Paris on sunday….Feel its going to be as special as London. Thanks for the review.
My, you do get a decent class of person below the line on this blog, Richard. Lovely review
Lovely piece. I saw one of the Hammersmith gigs. What a star he is
Tried to get a ticket but no joy. Friend who saw him in Amsterdam last week was similarly enraptured. Still, I saw the Richard Thompson electric trio in Nottingham instead, and they were awesome.
Nice review , but somewhat understated , I feel , I saw Ry Cooder at the Hammersmith Odeon all those years ago , and although this was a different show , it was still outstanding , and so different from the norm .,it was just such a great evening , that brought everyone to their feet , to show their appreciation , in the sincerest way at the end of the evening.
Went along without a ticket and got a return in front row at face value! What a gig too and having seen Ry several times this is up there as poss the best, in my opinion anyway! Never sure about little political comments but that aside I was in my element hearing this virtuoso give us a masterclass ‘slide’ show. Thought the Hamiltones were superb too. Not wishing to appear smug, rather lucky if anything but my night was topped of by hearing someone say they paid 3x what I did for a lesser seat although the’re all pretty good at that venue!!
Lucky enough to see him in Glasgow on Tuesday and immediately afterwards checked to see if there were any tickets available for Cadogan Hall – sadly not but the memory of Tuesday evening will stay with me forever; stunning
Wow, Richard..! Dedication to duty. I’d travelled down from Newcastle for the gig and agree with everything you say. After the gig and a few pints of ‘Euphoria’..it was lovely to get your ‘hot press’ email so quickly. I’d also seen the Amsterdam 2nd night and they were equally wonderful. Well, they would be. I saw Nick Lowe there..expected. Plus Eric Clapton was spotted and with no disrespect to him, my thoughts were eat your heart out. Not about technical comparisons, more this is how to put a show on that’s got several dimensions to it, stage presence and the way he’s happy to play about with sound and by default trust the left field contributions of his son, Joachim, and the sax player of young Sam. The set list was marvellous. It doesn’t get any better and Ry is mellower and more relaxed on stage which pays huge dividends. Thanks again…
…I should that the Hamiltones were terrific and the final ‘ I Can’t Win’ was staggeringly good and brought a lump to my throat. I think everyone won last night..people were clearly buzzing when they left, doubtless some drinking their own choice of ‘Euphoria’…
Wish I’d been there. Have you heard the sublime ‘Jesus and Woody’ from Ry’s latest album?
He played it.
. . . ith a rather wonderful spoken introduction in which we were asked to imagine attending a nightclub in heaven
I could not have put it better,the band was excellent and the musicianship second to none,its ungrateful of me to say he should play here on an annual basis but who am i a mere mortal to what was almost a religious sermon,a call to arms,god almighty watching this show showed me that musi c is not dead stale apathetic. Any kid out there who wants to listen to music would not go awry starting with ry as i did some 45 years back.a show i will not forget.come back soon ry people are still hungry for the word….10 out of 10
I had the pleasure of attending yet another memorable Cooder gig last Monday in Dublin’s National Boxing Stadium where I had first seen him play forty years ago with Flaco Jimenez, Bobby King, Terry Evans et al. Seems to have been the same set as that at the Cadogan. Ry’s voice has improved with age, his playing was supreme as ever and his generosity towards rest of band a joy to witness.
Having seen Ry’s US tour recently methinks one can summarize his current tour with one simple phrase ;
” Old Guys Rule ”
Begging the question … who’s gonna take their/our place when we’re/they’re gone ?
Managed to get tickets for the Glasgow show, and what a show it was! The Hamiltones, apparently, were dead set against going on tour. So glad they decided to relent.
Strange all these comments. I travelled to Glasgow from London to see him as Cardigan Hall sold out. I loved the first 2 numbers but then really found the Hamiltones irritating. Slow Gospel is not my thing and would have preferred a shorter gig with more Cooder. Also a a couple of old favourites so slow and without the lightness I used to love of Cooder. Saw him live in the 70s at the BBC when he was sublime.
Meanwhile Richard Thompson was electric in Southend. Never fails to deliver.
Even stranger verging on the genuinely ironic ; The fact that you laud RT’s current tour ( and CD no doubt ) so much when in reality he’s become a mere pastiche verging on a parody of his former self
Whereas Ry Cooder with this current CD and tour has moved on maturing once again as both a player and a writer interpreter . Something all too few musicians both in jazz of rock ever do … due in no small part to ‘ so called ‘ fans like yourself more interested in ” Living in the Past ” looking backward rather than living in the present looking forward
( full discloser .. I’ve been an RT fan since his Fairport days and we even share a luthier ! But the sad fact is all his latest albums ( and tours ) since ” You , Me , Us ” have been major disappointments as he’s gone down the road of trying to repeat the past rather than live in the present and look to the future )
FYI ; Slow and thoughtful playing has been Ry’s signature since the ” Get Rhythm ” days . But then again you being there ( UK ) and my being here ( US ) .. not to mention my having listened to and seen Ry in action ( both on stage and in the studio ) since the early 70’s you wouldn’t know that … would you !
Thanks for a lovely review. I couldn’t get tickets for London at sensible prices so I went to Antwerp instead, and that was a great gig too, by the sound of it the same setlist. At one point the PA power failed and Ry did a solo acoustic version of 13 question method from front stage while the crew got things working again. An outstanding moment. I was also at one of the Hammersmith Odeon gigs, Ardwick around 1980 and Cambridge before that, and this was the best of them all. Who knows if we will get a chance to see him again.
Pete .. if Ry’s recent comments in the interview in FretBoard Journal’s new ‘ Electric Edition ‘ gives any indication … this is probably the last tour Ry will ever do … or at the very least the last international tour he’ll ever do