The building shook, twitched and the floors rumbled as the band played with a stream of consciousness abandon. Those who crammed inside the Beale on Broadway were treated to a show that blurred the lines between blues, rock and technical proficiency.
With the opening rumble of Orlando Thompson's bass and the tribal pounding of Nick Hayes -- landing somewhere between Max Roach and Bernard Purdie -- there was a sense that something else was about to go down. This was not the garden-variety blues show filled with standards and the posturing of some Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan wannabe. Gales made that clear as he strapped on his Stratocaster to play a Middle Eastern mode as a raga prayer and then in a heart beat the band shifted to a shuffle that would make John Lee Hooker proud. This shift was the first of many twists and turns that Gales and his rhythm section would make with proficiency; they kept fans riveted and on the edge of their proverbial seats.
It is easy to forget that behind his six strings Gales is also an accomplished singer and songwriter. His impassioned voice is an extension of his guitar playing and intertwines between riffs and leads. The night was filled with the virtuosity that he is known for, but none of it has a framework without the song. The Texas boogie of "The Change in Me" showcased his Memphis blues roots while "Block the Sun," with its heavy riffs and incendiary guitars, is at its core a soul song, a point driven home when Gales' wife performed harmony vocals that were part Motown and Philly soul.
Eric Gales may be the namesake of his trio but it would not be a successful band without a superior rhythm section. A lot of sonic space needs to be filled in this setting; bassist Orlando Thompson and drummer Nick Hayes fill that space beautifully. They create a groove that shifted seamlessly underneath Gales vocal and guitar phrases, at times pushing each other into new sonic territory. Gales was happy to step aside to let both Thompson and Hayes give a taste of what they were about as individual musicians.
Surprises were plentiful and culminated towards the end of the set. The opening arpeggios of the Blue Oyster Cult classic "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" shook the crowd with delight and led to interspersed crowd participation in singing the melody. Gales somehow quoted guitar lines from Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" which only foreshadowed the apex of his set. Fresh off his stint with the "Experience Hendrix" tour, the band launched into those four distinctive opening notes of "Purple Haze" and what was to follow was a stunning interpretation of that and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)."
Everything was on display as Gales hit his wah-wah pedal and launched into the voodoo guitar classic. It was in "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" that all his influences and his unique interpretation were on display. He drew from the sounds of Albert King, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Johnson all swirling through the ears of the audience, multiplying and cascading into his own style. Gales, Thompson and Hayes took the audience on a journey that morphed the Hendrix classic into Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" and AC/DC's "Back in Black" -- and then all the way back again.