Johnny Rivers on Friday evening showed that he can still rock and roll with youthful exuberance and impressive chops. He can also put one one hell of a show.
The 73-year-old guitarist's performance at the State Theatre in Easton was a rollicking run through soul and R&B-infused hits; fuel-injected musical horsepower driven by Rivers' smoking guitar licks and steered by his stellar backing band. Keyboardist Skip Edwards' interplay with Rivers was a joy to watch.
The evening started with Rivers' band treating the packed house to the "James Bond Theme" from Dr. No, before Rivers joined his fellow musicians on a thumping rendition of "Midnight Special." Rivers and Co. immediately hit their stride and kept the energy high with runs through the bluesy "Chicago Bound" and "Down at the House of the Blues."
"Seventh Son," a Rivers' concert staple, was a standout, as was his cover of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' "Tracks of My Tears." The latter demonstrated Rivers' ability to graft Southern blues on to old-school R&B with remarkable precision. He followed his ode to Motown with a peppy rendition of "Mountain of Love."
Midway through the show, Rivers traded his Gibson electric guitar for an acoustic six-string. He led his band through a three-song medley highlighted by a slightly reconfigured, more soulful version of The Animals' classic, "House of the Rising Sun." Rivers picked up the pace as he and the band tore through "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu."
Rivers briefly eased up on the gas pedal with the slow-burning "Poor Side of Town" and an extended version of "Baby I Need Your Loving." The latter quickly turned into a loud and spirited crowd sing-a-long. He ended the set with fiery rendition of Chuck Berry's "Memphis."
Rivers' four-song encore kicked off with the guitar standard "Route 66," followed by another Berry cover, "Maybelline," and his signature tune, "Secret Agent Man." The rest of the band left Rivers to wrap up the show by himself. Grabbing his acoustic guitar, Rivers serenaded those in attendance with a soulful take on the ballad "Slow Dancing."
Though many of the songs Rivers tackled have been performed thousands of times over the course of his more than 50 years in the business, Rivers' plucked and strummed each note with the same kind of passion as if was his first time on stage. Rivers' playing is still impeccable, his energy infectious.
If you find yourself coming down with a case of Riversitis, don't fight it. Embrace it.