Duke Robillard and his band were in a jamming mood Friday night at the Van Dyck.
The blues guitar legend’s first of two shows at the venue, before a packed house, played out as a series of extended jams for 80-plus minutes, with many songs hitting or exceeding the 10-minute mark. While Robillard was in a chair throughout the show, the playing was never lacking in energy, with seemingly nothing held back despite having another set to play later in the night.
Making a triumphant return to the venue after their last double-header here in April 2011, Robillard, stand-up bassist Brad Hallen, drummer Mark Teixeira and pianist Bruce Bears explored every facet of Robillard’s long solo career in their short set. From energetic jump blues, to pounding Chicago sounds, to jazz-inflected material from Robillard’s 2012 release “Wobble Walkin’,” the band covered nearly all the many variations within the blues genre as well.
A grooving instrumental got things going, with alternating solos introducing the dinner crowd to the band’s instrumental prowess. The first vocal tune of the night, “Jump the Blues For You,” followed, with Robillard’s hiccupping bark serving as punctuation for his soulful guitar playing throughout the gritty tune — setting a pattern that would be followed for most of the songs.
The band slowed the tempo for T-Bone Walker’s “You Don’t Love Me, and I Don’t Even Care,” which Robillard introduced by quipping, “That’s right, it’s a blues love song.” He then proceeded to tear away at his Les Paul, at times almost fighting the snaking groove laid out by his band, only to lock in for the explosive choruses. The band’s dynamics were on full display here, as the lengthy jam ebbed and flowed from a dull roar to a barely audible whisper.
Robillard’s playing was matched in intensity by all the other musicians onstage, and his willingness to share the spotlight made the show something special. Bears, the band’s secret weapon, took the spotlight on the swinging “Blue Coat Man,” and got in some nice call-and-response soloing against Robillard on the darkly humorous “You’re Just About as Welcome as a Fatal Heart Attack.” Teixeira and Hallen also took a few solos on the jazzy “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me,” originally recorded by Billie Holiday.
The Chicago blues stomper “Lookin’ For Trouble” was a high point mid-set, with more passionate interplay between Robillard and Bears that got the crowd clapping along. The set continued to push higher with Robillard’s self-proclaimed theme song, “I May Be Ugly (But I Sure Know How to Cook),” another shuffling jam that built to a huge crescendo despite a shaky beginning where Robillard momentarily blanked on his lyrics.
Robillard closed out the first show with another breezy jazz-blues, “Cadillac Slim,” this time from his 1987 album “Swing.” The band pulled out all the stops for this one, again cycling the solo spotlight through each instrumentalist.