Before the show started, lead guitarist Bob Margolin quipped that for a late show, 10 p.m. "ain't all that late."
This was a bit of a surprise, coming from the guy who leads the Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll Blues Band, a group made up of Pinetop Perkins (96), Hubert Sumlin (78), Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (74), and Bob Stroger (about 70). But Margolin was right. These men -- who have seen blues and jazz evolve over decades -- showed little sign of slowing down.
Even Perkins (the clear draw for the band ) played piano and sang like a man in his prime. He's one of those legends -- like Dave Brubeck or Doc Watson -- who you know has no plans to stop. And while Perkins only played a handful of songs, his presence electrified everybody in the house in the way that only a true blues hero can.
The show started with Margolin on guitar, Smith on drums, and Stroger on bass, with Margolin introducing new band members throughout the set. The show's first highlight came early on, with Stroger's rendition of "You Got to Move." After a few verses behind the mike, Stroger took his bass to the edge of the stage and sang mike-less in a voice that had no trouble reaching the venue's most obscure corners.
Next, Margolin introduced Sugar Blue, who led a blazing rendition of "Krystalline" -- "You're a strange white lady/Tell me, honey, what's your name?/She said, baby .. .just call me krystalline cocaine." At first, I was worried that Mr. Blue, with his embroidered pants, jewelry and bandoleer of harmonicas, would be inclined to showboat, but just as he knew how to dazzle on the harp, he also knew when to lay low; as the show continued, his intuition became quite evident.
Hubert Sumlin, whose guitar playing has been likened to an "icepick to the brain," came out next. His entrance was complicated by amplification problems, which stymied the initial shock of his staccato picking, but he recovered quickly and proved his ability on my favorite song of the night, a subtle, soulful rendition of "Sittin' on Top of the World." During this song, even the twentysomething girl next to me managed to put a lid on the stream of mundane chatter that she insisted upon shouting to her date throughout the entire show. Her attempts to compete with the band were the real icepick to my brain.
No matter. The performers were great, and the fact that these guys were up there, still doing what they love after so many decades, was a highlight in itself. The show was simulcast on KSDS 88.3 FM; hopefully I can track it down somewhere.
Saturday marked the culmination of their Once and for All tour, and it's unlikely that the tour's name is just a marketing ploy, so the evening took on a particularly celebratory vibe. If the Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll Blues Band does decide to embark on a One More Time and for All tour, though, be sure to catch them wherever they land.
T. Loper is a writer for the San Diego music blog Owl and Bear.