George Thorogood still knows how to deliver the hits

A review of George Thorogood and the Destroyers at the South Shore Music Circus on August 5, 2010

, Contributing Writer

George Thorogood and the Destroyers may not be rocking the largest of venues anymore, but on Thursday night at the intimate South Shore Music Circus, they proved they still have the stuff to deliver on the old hits. While the mileage is visible, Thorogood retains his desire to give his audience a good time, and his recipe of blues-rock, gruff baritone, and flashy guitar riffs made for a decent show.

The formula for a Destroyers concert has not changed at all over the decades. It’s still about two things: hearing the hits that have made the band famous in the mid-‘70s, and experiencing Thorogood’s on-stage personality. His combination of boastful arrogance and tendency to poke fun at himself was one of the night’s most entertaining aspects. He would build himself up to the point where he’d look impossibly egotistic, and then push it all aside as a joke with a comment such as “I know I’m full of shit, but I’m having a good time.” He makes the audience laugh, and at the same time displays the smooth confidence created through his personality and lyrics.

The Destroyers opened the set with “Rock Party”, featuring an impressive opening solo from rhythm guitarist John Suhler. Suhler didn’t get too many chances to take the spotlight over the course of the night – it would have been nice to see him step out from Thorogood’s shadow and take the lead for a song or two. Then it was the frontman’s turn to show off his fretwork, and he did so with some furious riffs and melodies. “I love it!” he shouted, brandishing his guitar at the crowd, and – judging from the frenzied reaction – they did, too. He and saxophonist Buddy Leach crept across the stage in the famous Chuck Berry duck walk; an amusing choreographic effort, but definitely not as smooth as it would have been twenty years ago. After the Destroyers’ rendition of Hank Williams’ “Who Do You Love?”, the band quieted down for Thorogood to acknowledge the crowd. “I can’t believe it’s really me!” he joked with a grin. His ability to thrive off audience support was also evident in the next song, “Run Myself Out of Town”, as he began dancing wildly to encourage fans to clap. It takes a very special set of circumstances to find a crowd screaming and cheering at a sixty-year old man vigorously thrusting his hips at them, but those circumstances were present Thursday night.

Of course, all the big hits were present; the next few songs were highlighted by “I Drink Alone”, featuring some excellent saxophone fillers from Leach, and Rudy Toombs’ “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” (though the song was made famous by John Lee Hooker, it was actually written by Toombs).  The latter was clearly a crowd favorite. The Destroyers’ version of the song incorporates Hooker’s “House Rent Boogie”, which serves as a narrative back-story, and was a very entertaining part of the night. “Get A Haircut” featured a phenomenal solo from Thorogood, who bore an expression of pure concentration as his hands danced up and down the roaring guitar. He even looked up with a face of mock surprise, as if even he was shocked by his solo. Thankfully, the gesture came off as comical rather than obnoxious. After the lively “Move It On Over”, the band cleared the darkened stage, but it was obvious they were not done yet.

The encore was very well done; the Destroyers returned to the stage sans Thorogood, and Suhler played a rocking solo to prime the crowd for the frontman’s return. When he did, the song of choice was “Tail Dragger”, highlighted by Leach puffing away on a baritone saxophone. “Foreplay is over,” Thorogood then growled, “time to get down to business!” Everyone in the venue knew what that meant, and the place exploded as the famous opening riffs of “Bad To The Bone” rang out. From the patented stutter of the chorus to the shrill alto sax solo and closing guitar melody, the song was every bit the hit that it should be in a live show.

While Thorogood and the Destroyers provided for an entertaining night, not everything was up to par. A lot of the choreography was sloppy, to the point where it should have been avoided altogether. While that wasn’t too crucial to the concert – Thorogood and his band obviously depend on the audio much more than the visual – bassist Billy Blough appeared bored out of his mind for the entire night. Perhaps he had somewhere to be, but his stone-faced expression made it clear that it was not this show. The audience takes its lead from the band, and if the performers aren’t enjoying themselves, how are the fans supposed to? Blough’s lethargic demeanor took a lot of potential excitement away from the crowd. But George Thorogood was there, and the hits were there, so the night didn’t suffer too much as a whole.

Tom Hambridge was a treat for an opening set. The man is perhaps more talented than he lets on, as he’s written songs recorded by big names like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Keith Anderson, Meat Loaf, and – of course – George Thorogood and the Destroyers. He still manages to convey the manner of a normal guy who happens to sing for a living, making his performances very casual and enjoyable. He highlighted this quality with an upbeat song about his little red-haired daughter Rachel. His hits “Rock Me Right” and “I Got Your Country Right Here”, which have been recorded by artists Susan Tedeschi and Gretchen Wilson, respectively, had the entire crowd up and dancing. After closing his set, Hambridge appeared on the stage with the Destroyers, armed with two maracas, to provide some additional percussion in “Who Do You Love?”.

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