The head nurse spoke up and said, “Leave this one alone.”
Delaware rocker George Thorogood has electrified audiences for over thirty-five years with his unique blend of revved-up blues rock ‘n’ roll. But the guitarist never graced a stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland until this past July. Naturally, his incendiary 90-minute set was captured for the ages by a bank strategically placed throughout the venue.
Now available from Eagle Rock, George Thorogood & The Destroyers: Live at Montreux 2013 finds the party-loving riff-master heating up the 47th annual jazz fest with his popular cover versions of blues staples by Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, and Elmore James—with a couple barnstorming originals thrown in for good measure. Decades removed from his debut album, Thorogood shows no signs of slowing down, using a pair of Gibson ES-125 guitars to channel Chuck Berry and Dick Dale for enthusiastic concertgoers who range in age from 6 to 60.
Taking the stage in a snakeskin-print bandana and sunglasses, Thorogood and his Destroyers invite spectators to their “Rock Party.” The first of several 12-bar blues numbers performed on this occasion, the tune assigns a first guitar solo to longtime Les Paul player Jim Suhler, who defers to George’s black Gibson later. Saxophonist Buddy Leach huffs away, his beret soaking in cobalt blue stage light as drummer Jeff Simon and bassist Bill Blough lock into the groove. By song’s end, George (who tosses away his shades) has everyone eating from his palm.
Clad in a “Try Love” T-shirt, Simon cops a Bo Diddley beat for “Who Do You Love?” and shakes a pair of maracas while Blough pins the bottom end with his algae-green Music Man Sterling. Sonny Boy Williamson standard “Help Me” has Thorogood preaching with hand on hip, swaying as flames, skulls, and razor wire flicker on the LCD video backdrops. Harkening back to their 1980 release More George Thorogood & The Destroyers,” the Bob Feldman-penned “Night Time” is accompanied by images of moons, clocks…and an edict to “Trust Your Doctor.”
The double-shot of “I Drink Alone” and “One Bourbon, One Shot, One Beer” finds George singing the praises of top-shelf liquor (and domestic beer) over Blough’s steady pulse. Ditching the bandana, Thorogood peppers the musical break-downs with his signature lost-my-job-and-can’t-make-the-rent anecdotes, grinning like a Cheshire cat between his fleet-fingered solos—all played with fingertips and thumb picks in lieu of the standard plectrum favored by most guitar heroes. When George momentarily lets up with the landlady backtalk, it’s only to offer a friendly PSA about drinking responsibly. But even then he manages to work in a double-entendre:
“Have a friend drive you home,” he suggests. “Heck, have your friend’s girlfriend drive you home!”
The focus shifts from alcohol to hard drugs as The Destroyers co-opt T.J. Arnall’s “Cocaine Blues,” which Thorogood dedicates to Johnny Cash. Photos of the Man in Black and his wife, June Carter, fill the screens behind the band during the countrified shuffle, whereon George manhandles his black Gibson one last time before switching to a white ES-125 (with a cobra appliqué on the body). Before launching into the well-timed “Get a Haircut,” Thorogood tells a Tommy Chong doppelganger down front to send his regards to Cheech.
“I know I’m full of shit,” the guitarist concedes. “But I’m having a good time!”
The concert shifts into high gear with “Bad to the Bone” and “Move It On Over,” sweat beading on Thorogood’s brow as he tortures the neck of his Gibson with a glass slide, conjuring panther-like growls and screeches from the instrument. Suhler prefaces procrastinator anthem “Tail Dragger” with a solo of his own, enticing the crowd to clap along. Guitar-less for once, George is free to rip the microphone from its stand and prowl the stage, sizing up his onlookers. Encore number “Madison Blues” features more of Thorogood’s nimble bottleneck fretwork, Leach’s soulful sax, and taut rhythms by Simon and Blough.
In the brief bonus interview, George reflects on his career and ponders the pressures of repeated high-energy performance. Stretching out pre-show on some backstage sofa, the affable guitarist says he’s more intimidated by the demands of his audience—who expect the best—rather than rivalries with other entertainers. He rightly notes that “the attention span of the world is shrinking,” which means he’s got to grab listeners right out of the gate, unfailingly, night after blues-drenched night.
“I like the crowd to be already revved up,” he says. “When you hear that buzz, you know McCartney’s coming. And when Tom Jones hits the stage, man, nobody’s lookin’ at their shoes!”
“When that buzz is gone, George is gonna be gone.”
George Thorogood & The Destroyers: Live at Monteux 2013 features Dolby Digital Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS Surround sound. Also available on Blu-Ray and audio CD.