Thirteen months shy of his 70th birthday and Jack Bruce looks just a little jaded as he steps out on stage wearing an oversized brown suit and gingerly clutching his trademark bass guitar. It’s a false impression that doesn’t last.
Appearances can be deceptive and just as soon as one of the finest musicians of the last half century settles into the familiar rhythm of classics culled from an enduring career this could easily be the Bruce of old: a fiery Scot who burst onto the scene as one third of the volatile supergroup Cream and has busily set about raising the standards of blues rock thereafter.
In 2012 the multi-instrumentalist has surrounded himself with phenomenal musicians clearly schooled in the finer traditions of an evocative genre and yet offering the youthful verve necessary to complement their leader’s veteran status.
Bruce and his merry band of blues brothers could, and really should, be the hottest ticket in town and yet plying their trade in front of an intimate Tyne Theatre audience is wholly apt where this endearing collective is concerned. Watching this set played out in a vast arena just wouldn’t work – a truly atmospheric environment is required to best appreciate this immersive show.
Inevitably it is the Cream classics White Room and Sunshine Of Your Love that draw the warmest applause – and the odd whoop of delight – from an audience enjoying yet another opportunity to see a true legend at work. The latter allows Bruce an opportunity to fully showcase his undiminished skill set, moving up and down the neck of his favourite instrument with all the dexterity of an individual half his age.
But the beauty of this tour is that it’s not all about Bruce. A three-pronged brass section often threaten to steal the show while the doleful-looking Tony Remy more than makes up for his miserable demeanour with lead guitar licks to die for.
In complete contrast beaming drummer Frankie Tontoh looks like he’s loving every minute of every song as he keeps pace with one of the world’s most celebrated rhythm kings. A rare error towards the end of an otherwise faultless display had his band mates (even Remy managed a smile) and the audience in stitches.
At his best on the rousing Neighbor, Neighbor, the remarkable Bruce visibly gained energy and enthusiasm as a sensational set evolved into the dream blues jam session.
Just how long such lofty standards can be maintained is anyone’s guess. But they were saying the same about Jack Bruce 30, 20 and 10 years ago. He’s still here and, crucially, so is the passion for his peerless craft.