PORT HARDY—The Powder Blues Band enjoyed its hit-making heyday several decades ago. But the clock was turned back for a night at the Civic Centre when founder Tom Lavin and rest of the Powder Blues performed for the largest crowd in several years at the North Island Concert Society’s second event of the 2012-13 season series.
Displaying the range of Chicago-style blue, swing, jazz and R&B that sent the group to chart-topping success, critical acclaim and a Juno Award in the 1980s, the Powder Blues wowed the Civic Centre audience with a compendium of classics on the evening.
One fan, during intermission, acknowledged his appreciation for the swing and Chicago Blues clinic while wondering aloud if the group was planning to play some of its chart-toppers.
Enter the second set, during which Lavin and the boys unleashed a virtual “best-of” of toe-tapping hits ranging from Personal Manager and Hear That Guitar Ring from their debut album Uncut, to the blues-rocker Thirsty Ear from the album of the same name to the show-closing megahit Doin’ it Right (on the Wrong Side of Town) from the eponymous Powder Blues album.
Lavin is the only remaining member of the former Vancouver-area bar band that vaulted to international fame in the 1980s, and he was front-and-centre throughout Saturday’s show with vocals and guitar work on a powder-blue Gibson that has lost none of its potency in the ensuing years.
In its 15 years of bringing acts to North Vancouver Island, the North Island Concert Society has managed an admirable mix of styles while also balancing up-and-coming acts, comedy/variety/tributes and, every now and then, a favourite “name” band or combo well-known through airplay in previous years.
Powder Blues falls into the latter category, and has not released a new recording since 2004’s Blues+Jazz=BLAZZ! But Saturday’s show was not simply a case of some old-timers going through the motions with their historical hits.
Lavin, a producer, film composer and writer who has performed with the biggest names in blues, rock and R&B, is clearly not content to simply mail in a show, even when it appears at a rural end of the road system and followed a mis-reading of airline schedule that resulted in a wild scramble to get to the Civic Centre in time for a pre-show sound check.
He has surrounded himself with a tight backing group that includes longtime keyboardist Mike Kitaj, rhythm section of bassist Tony Maryott and drummer Daryl Bennett, and a horn duo of trumpeter Vince Mai and newcomer Tom Colclough on tenor sax.
Lavin handed off solos to these compatriots throughout the evening, with some of the most effective improvisation coming on an epic, 13-plus-minute jam of Same Ol’ Blues and a nearly nine-minute take of the slow-blues burner Personal Manager from Powder Blues’ debut album, Uncut.
The crowd would likely have been pleased had Powder Blues just ran with two sets of down-and-dirty Chicago blues, but the band has never locked itself into a single style. It instead cut a wide-ranging swath through the jazz-infused swing of Further on up the Road, the boogie-woogie of Just a Little, the funk of the B.B. King-recorded Cryin’ Won’t Help You and the up-tempo rock of Doin’ it Right.
Sure, these are yesterday’s hits. But they still struck a chord with the Civic Centre audience Saturday.