Ten Years After Photos by Arnie Goodman (at B.B. King’s Blues Club, NYC)
Fifty years on, Ten Years After is a long way from a greatest-hits nostalgia act. Okay, that may be partly because they only had one hit, but it’s mainly because they play with the excitement of teenagers. There have inevitably been some changes from the original quartet—more so than expected for this tour, as it turned out—but we couldn’t have asked for a harder-rocking show to bring the summer to a close. The power trio stomped from the first note and barely let up all night long.
Trio? Yes, that’s right: a few songs in, Ric Lee came out from the drum stool to explain that keyboardist Chick Churchill had gone under a surgeon’s knife back in the UK that very day. Apparently the group’s absent co-founder had insisted that the others play these dates anyway. The good thoughts on his behalf were unmistakable through the cozy room, and his bandmates gave the best tribute they could by playing their hearts out.
Marcus Bonfanti may be the youngest member by a good few decades, but he’s got the energy to just about keep up with the septuagenarians all the same. He belies his youthful looks by singing with the gritty power of a grizzled bluesman. More importantly, his wild-man presence at stage left was secondary to some wilder guitar skills. He was equally at home wailing through greasy solos, spinning Chuck Berry-style R&B boogie or sitting down unplugged for a handful of way-old-school tunes to close the first set.
The acoustic stretch went back to the group’s 1967 single “Portable People” and had the place heartily clapping to “Losing the Dogs.” Lee mentioned that sitting up close and personal is something the band’s rarely done, but it made a lovely interlude in the high-wattage show. Everyone needed a breather anyway after Colin Hodgkinson’s trademark solo spot, in which he packed a bassist’s master course into an astounding “32-20 Blues” and brought the room half to its feet (for the first of several times).
There were classic staples aplenty, from the down-and-dirty “One of These Days” and “Love Like a Man” to Lee’s epic drum solo “The Hobbit,” and a guitar/bass duel through Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” that brought the house down. The set didn’t just coast on crowd-pleasers either; a few rockers and shuffles from the forthcoming A Sting in the Tale showed enough blues-rock bite to shame groups half their age. Of course their biggest hit “I’d Love to Change the World” had to appear. Hearing those lyrics in 2017 only brought home the ways in which the world has and hasn’t changed since 1971, but at least the joy of connecting through music is one thing that hasn’t. After rowdy encores of “Choo Choo Mama” and “Woke Up This Morning” with an Elvis medley on the side, the standing ovation was deafening. We should all be lucky enough to hit the half-century mark with this much spark and sizzle.