Ry Cooder Live - Apollo Victoria Theatre, London

He cooder been a contender - except for the shirt

New Musical Express - November 1st 1980

This is getting predictable to the point of monotony - the way Ry Cooder shuffles over here so often and picks up good reviews as a matter of course.

It's as predictable as that inexplicable indifference with which the public-at-large persists in greeting him. Maybe this time around, with the release of "Borderline" the general populace will break the habit of a lifetime and acknowledge the man's existance. We can only hope. And as for the reviews, meanwhile, they continue running true to form.

But then, Cooder's a pretty predictable sort of character himself - predictably excellent, even predictably full of surprises. Tonight's Apollo show, first in his current run of UK appearances, satisfied expectations in the nicest possible way, completely living up to the atmosphere of pleasurable anticipation that you could feel surrounding the event from every street leading to the venue.

Kicking off with that delightful version of Elvis' "Little Sister", the set ran smoothly through a beautiful selection of material, most of it emphasising the sunnier, funkier side of Cooder's diverse talents.

If there was any over-riding theme behind the bulk of the rich material on offer, then it was the vexed question of the sexes and the innumerable problems which arise in relating one to the other - "Alimony" and "The Girls from Texas" being just two of the more obvious examples. And, of course, ("Every woman I know) Crazy 'bout an aoutomobile" ("and here I am standing with nothin' but a rubber heel"). This and similar plaintive reflections were to be the evening's keynote - one of (and no pun intended) wry humour.

No account could be complete, however, without mention of Cooder's confederates, whose supporting roles were anything but perfunctory. Backed by Darrell Verdusco on drums (described as "the shuffling Peruvian", I think), James Rolleston on bass and Jesse Harms on keyboards, he'd also enlisted the services of writer John Hiatt on guitar and vocals (Hiatt being rewarded with a lead spot on his own "Guilty").

In terms of attention and the crowd's affections, though, Cooder was run a very close second by his black vocal team of Willie Green Jr. and Bobby King. Aided by some slick little dance routines, the duo's vocal contributions - Green's so low as to rumble your seat, King's so pure and high - were deployed to deadly effect, especially in "Down in the Boondocks" and in the encore of Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang", and demonstrated a class of soul singing I'd feared to be extinct.

Soul, of course, is only one of the categories Ry Cooder seems to tackle with insolent ease (exemplified by the confident and brash treatment of Pickett's "634-5789"). Elsewhere the influence of Tex-Mex predominated. And everywhere there was Cooder's guitar playing, always superbly expressive. The taste with which he performs is matched only by the taste with which he chooses what to perform. The only place his taste let him down was his shirt, but let's not get sidetracked by that.

In total, the show presented one of those lamentably rare pairings of supreme technique with simple, spontaneous feel. The craftmanship was never allowed to shine through in isolation from that sense of celebration. The love of music was plainly in evidence in everything the musicians played for us. And the feeling was mutual.

Paul Du Noyer


Information supplied by List member Conny Bergh