Legendary music photographer Robert Knight is standing in front of the stage almost invisible. He snaps off a few shots, takes a quick peek at the small digital screen, then quietly moves to a different spot amongst the crowd listening to the not-so-quiet Pat Travers Band. This is his first time shooting the guitar player, Knight tells me before the show, and he is looking forward to it. The feeling is mutual. While backstage before the show, Travers tells me he is excited to be doing a photo shoot with the maestro of photography the following day. When I tell him that Knight, in fact, has shown up to see him perform, a small smile creases his face.
Travers has been flying just under the music equator for many years now and the big question amongst his peers and his fans, is why? He ranks up there with Steve Marriott and Alvin Lee and Robin Trower, and like them, despite the immeasurable talent they possess and a few big hits in their repertoire, they still have managed to never hit that superstar echelon of contemporaries like Jeff Beck and Joe Perry.
But Travers continues on, playing songs from his past to his devoted followers. And the crowd, which included members of the GNR entourage and Ecotonic singers Jason and Janae Ebs, were treated to a mighty fine display of guitar playing without all the circus trickery that can often pop up.
The Pat Travers Band of today includes Kirk Mckim on guitar, Rodney O’Quinn on bass and Sandy Gennaro on drums. Travers, with his laid back demeanor and flannel shirt unbuttoned to his navel, takes to the stage with a confident cool that seems to come naturally to all the great guitar players. Head down, eyes squeezed shut, he rolls into one song after another and builds up the momentum, slows it down for a smidgen, before kicking it back into high gear to end on a high note. This is who he is, this is who he has always been. Not many airs flying off his no-nonsense performance and it is O’Quinn who is actually the strutter of the band – and has the bass chops to back up the swagger.
One of the big highlights of their set was “Red House,” with Mckim’s guitar howl intro and Travers on a slow cool slide with a gravely bluesy snarl. Following in the same vein, Travers took the Ray Charles tune “I’ve Got News For You” and went on a tear down, administering chills in the process while the backbeat held down and smoldered. Add to that the Son House sliding blues of “Death Letter” and you have enough proof that Pat Travers still knows how to blend it and bring it.
Gearing up to wind down his regular set, he went out with a bang of his most popular songs – “Snorting Whiskey” and “Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights,” which had the crowd up and singing. But the real crescendo was their version of “Statesboro Blues,” the old Blind Willie McTell blues number that the Allman Brothers turned into a barnburner, to which Travers and his band followed suit. Sweaty with a rock & roll high is the best way to leave a concert and that’s how you walked away from the Pat Travers Band in Las Vegas.
So what does Pat Travers have coming up for 2013? “Before I came back here today, I was back home in Florida working on a new studio recording and working furiously, I might add,” Travers told me before taking to the stage. “I released an album called Blues On Fire, which is a collection of songs that were all recorded in the 1920’s and it’s a really cool record. We recorded a live album too but I’m not sure when that’s going to come out. So I’m just going to finish up this new CD and I have some shows in Florida near Christmas and after that we have a cruise we’re doing in January, the Rock Legends Cruise, and that’s going to be awesome. And beyond that, we’re just kind of picking and choosing right now but staying very busy.”
SETLIST: Rock N Roll Susie, Crash & Burn, Heat In The Street, I’ve Got News For You, Black Betty, Josephine, Black Dawg Blues, Stevie, Red House, Judgment Day, Death Letter, Snorting Whiskey, Boom Boom Out Go The Lights
ENCORE: Getting’ Betta, Statesboro Blues