The grail of the guitar solo seems, increasingly, to be an old man's article of faith. That, at least, was the impression Robin Trower's audience presented at the Egyptian Room last Monday night. Most of Trower's acolytes appeared to have made it well past the halfway mark on the stairway to heaven.
Trower, who has the look of an impish English professor, has been slinging his axe since the glory days of the late 1960s. Knocked early on as a Hendrix poseur, he's more than earned his stripes since then. After all, he's been refining his technique for more years than Hendrix lived, growing what once seemed an avant-garde wail into something sturdy and strangely reassuring.
Trower does a wonderful job of laying down broad washes of tubular sound. On this tour he was playing in what seems his preferred configuration: a power trio plus lead singer. In the past, Trower has frequently collaborated with Jack Bruce, the phenomenal bassist best known for his work with Cream. Bruce's ability to build a rhythm by swooping over and under the lead with a volley of well-placed notes would have been welcome here; Trower's current rhythm section was lead-footed and unimaginative. This left the guitarist with nothing to play off of or structure his solos around. As for the singer, he was superfluous.
The evening's best moments came when Trower allowed himself the room to create lush beds of psychedelia. While he can blaze away with the best of them, his particular gift is for vintage atmospherics. His signature tune, "Bridge of Sighs," with its magisterial languor punctuated with splattering solo passages, epitomized Trower's approach. For a moment it was like the clouds gave way, the kingdom was in sight.