It’s not every day you get to see a universally acknowledged master of his craft do his thing. At 78 (!) Delbert McClinton may no longer be at the very top of his game — though he’s still impressively close to it — but the Texas roadhouse blues master put on an energetic and memorable show at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware on Friday night.
If you’ve never been to The Grand in Wilmington, that 1871-era opera house is a regal sight, with its multi-arched facade, balcony portico trimmed with ornate, gold-leafed designs, and stage topped with a giant golden eagle. At first blush it seemed a rather incongruous venue to host a rockin’ roadhouse blues band, but McClinton knew just how to loosen up the joint. Wearing a brown polo shirt, crinkled khakis and a fedora hat, the Lubbock-born bluesman and his likewise casually dressed 8-piece band (two guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, sax and trumpet) launched quickly into a series of gutbucket tunes including the searing “Blues As Blues Can Get.” They seemed intent from the
start on taking no prisoners — and by night’s end, leaving no attendees still planted in their seats.
The repertoire ran the gamut from older hits like “Two More Bottles of Wine,” “Old Weakness (Coming On Strong)” and “Giving It Up for Your Love,” to 2000s-era numbers like “Going Back to Louisiana,” “Starting a Rumor” and “People Just Love to Talk,” to newer tunes like “Rosy” from 2017’s Prick of the Litter and “Oughta Know” from his 2013 collaboration with Glen Clark, Blind, Crippled and Crazy. They even showcased a couple of recently-minted tunes (one titled “Mr. Smith is Back in Town”) off McClinton’s next album, due for release in the spring.
The three-time Grammy winner’s voice was inimitably craggy and fine, especially on classic ballads like “Starting A Rumor” and “Rita’s Gone.” McClinton seemed to be in a buoyant mood, casually chatting and joking with audience members and band members by turn. He drank beer from a small bucket of bottles placed nearby on stage, played cowbell, hammed it up during instrumental solos, orchestrated key bits of songs with stretched out arms, and even called a couple of audibles — including one new tune the band members weren’t sure they all knew. He seemed to be genuinely enjoying the hell out of himself.
His down-home, teasing sense of humor popped up a couple of times too. “Everybody in the giving mood?” he asked during a short interlude. “Then give me some money!” Later, assessing the audience’s off-key singalong during the first tune of his three-song encore, he taunted in his north Texas drawl, “You sound like a dyin’ cat in a hailstorm.”
McClinton’s band, Self-Made Men, was a super tight, top-notch team that added just the right amount of gritty roadhouse edge to its virtuosity. When McClinton took a brief break from the stage mid-concert, saxophonist Dana Robbins thrilled the audience with a wailing sax solo on the band’s hopping version of “Tequila.” James Pennebaker, who has played on and off with McClinton since he was 19, then belted out Bobby Womack’s “I’m in Love,” before Telecaster titan Bob Britt sang Bob Dylan and The Band’s “I Shall Be Released.” McClinton snuck back on stage to sing backing vocals during the latter; he threw in some jazz-hands while yucking it up with the horn section.
Kevin McKendree on keys, Michael Joyce on bass, Jack Bruno on drums and Quentin “Q” Ware on trumpet rounded out McClinton’s collection of world-
class players, which played nonstop for about an hour and a half and then tacked on 20 minutes more for the encore without seeming to break a sweat. You can see why McClinton says they’re the best band he’s ever had.
McClinton left the stage to a standing ovation from the happily dancing and fist-pumping crowd. As the band departed and the house lights went up, “A Real Motha For Ya” blared from the opera house’s P.A. So much for the high- class pomp and circumstance! It seemed a fitting eye-winking adieu from the traveling blues band to that palatial showplace.
Next up for Delbert and company in the New Year is a headlining stint for the Sandy Beaches Cruise, after which they return to touring with stops in Durham, NC (January 19), the City Winery in Nashville (Februrary 1), the Sumter Opera House in South Carolina (February 2), Austin’s Paramount Theatre (February 9), the Newberry Opera House in South Carolina (Februrary 15), and Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse (February 16). Full details can be found on delbert.com . Whether on a cruise liner, in an opera house or at a winery, you owe it to yourself to catch McClinton and his killer band in action.