June 2007

Brian Auger and Oblivion Express
Presented by Gary Topp
June 6, 2007 Healey’s Roadhouse Toronto
Report and photo by Erik Twight
For people alive at the time, or those of us who scraped a little deeper into sixties British blues-rock than the Rolling Stones and the Animals, there were a few figures from the dawn of British blues who ran musical training camps for musicians who later rose to the top of the English music scene. John Mayall saw Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor come and go on to join huge acts; Brian Auger is another English band leader who has helped start the careers of singers like Julie Driscoll and no less than two drummers who ended up joining seventies chart-toppers The Average White Band. In later years, he toured with fellow English soul-man Eric Burdon. They appeared at the enormous German Rockpalast Festival, and recorded a live CD about a decade later.

So far in this millennium, Brian Auger has been touring and recording with his drummer and son Karma (to whom, along with his wife Ella, the 1975 album Closer To It is dedicated) and his daughter Savannah, who sings and sways to the music. They are also on Brian’s new CD Looking In The Eye of The World (Fuel 2000 label). Both would have a few opportunities to prove themselves on stage tonight, although the sound system had Savannah’s voice turned up too high for this medium sized room.

This rather under-attended show at Healey’s Roadhouse (a more elegant milieu than the former Healey’s at Queen and Bathurst) started early (the first set was finished by about 10:30), but late-comers could at least enjoy the second set. During the break, Brian Auger graciously signed a stream of autographs and talked to everyone who had gathered around him. There were also CDs and DVDs for sale, including one of a live performance from 2005, which presented fans with something to have autographed.
Brian Auger with son Karma and daughter Savannah
The second set kicked off with Brian introducing “Whenever You’re Ready,” the opening cut from the Closer To It album, which is presumably one of Brian’s favourites as he regularly plays material from it. This steadily building funk jam allowed Brian to stretch out a little on the keyboards. His classic Hammond B-3 organ sound in full force, it was a treat to hear keyboard improvising that didn’t drown itself in a sea of synthesizers.

Bass player Ernest Tibbs, well regarded in his own right, was also given a chance to let loose during some passages. Drum solos by Karma Auger were kept to a minimum, as the drummer concentrated on providing the rock steady pounding deserved by Tibbs and Auger Sr. The set concluded with a slow burning cover of “Light My Fire”. The Oblivion Express treatment is paced almost like a slower rendition of Jackie Wilson’s version of this oft-covered hit, but Savannah’s sultry vocal delivery gives the song a sense of longing that few cover versions have effectively captured over the years.

After a brief good-bye and walk-off, Brian Auger and Oblivion Express returned one more time for an encore of “Compared To What?” (also on the Closer To It record) which featured Savannah sending her voice soaring across the room, while she led the band through the Eugene McDaniels’ soul-protest classic. While the house sound was less than stellar, Savannah’s powerful but still controlled voice was able to work with the poor mix. The concert was well received by the modest sized, older crowd. Toronto’s finicky concert-goers seemed to have stayed at home tonight, which is unfortunate because opportunities to catch live funky music in this city are already too few and far between.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Erik Twight
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