By: Robert Kinsler
Photos by Bob Steshetz Blues great Walter Trout kicked off his aptly-titled "Survivor Blues Tour 2020" with a powerful and inspired 130-minute appearance at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Friday night. Trout – who received a liver transplant in May 2014 and subsequently went through extensive rehabilitation to regain his health and ability to perform – noted that he is performing with a thrice-broken pinky finger on his left hand. Despite not having the use of his little finger, Trout shredded away on the fretboard of his beloved Fender guitar with his signature zeal. The show served as both a homecoming celebration (San Juan Capistrano is about a 30-minute drive south of Trout's long-time residence in Huntington Beach) and the launch of an ambitious tour that will take him across the U.S. in March before he heads to Australia in April and then on to Europe in May, June, July and August. The capacity crowd that packed The Coach House early on Friday was treated to a show highlighting Trout's enduring strengths as singer, songwriter and one of the world's greatest-ever blues-rock guitar players. That was displayed from the moment Trout and his top-tier trio of backing players took the stage, the long introduction of his opening salvo "I Can Tell" providing the perfect opportunity for Trout to tear into a long lead solo. Throughout the night Trout was obviously delighted to be among so many long-time fans. "This is amazing. I've been playing this room for over 30 years," Trout said in the early moments of the concert. The set included raging electric blues offerings like the aforementioned "I Can Tell" to be sure, but Trout's expansive talent as an artist was exhibited by a diverse setlist that included the introspective "Me, My Guitar and the Blues" off his latest album (last year's Survivor Blues), heavy "Saw My Mama Cryin'," the stirring soul gem "Common Ground," and intoxicating title song off his 2001 album Go The Distance, which was particularly potent with the song's quiet interlude ultimately a showcase for some especially-expressive guitar work. One of the definite highlights of the night was when Trout spoke of the period of his life when he was suffering in the wake of liver disease and he lost 120 pounds in a four-month period. One night while he was lying in a hospital bed alone he experienced an out-of-body experience, and recalled being drawn to a brilliant white light on what was a period of reflection where he drew even more fortitude in his quest to return to survive. Trout and his band then performed the song "Fly Away" (off his excellent 2015 album Battle Scars), a melodic rocker bolstered by his emotive vocals and nuanced guitar work as well as some strong harmonies from members of his terrific band (bassist Johnny Griparic, keyboardist Teddy "Zig Zag" Andreadis and drummer Michael Leasure). The fast-moving performance included several guests (including blues harp virtuoso Bob Landgraff) coming up on stage during "Blues for Jimmy T." and "Gonna Hurt Like Hell," and an extended run through Floyd Lee's "Red Sun" where members of his own band were featured via impressive solo turns. "The Best You Got" was performed as an encore, with Trout fusing both blues and jazz licks into his soloing on the original for a dramatic finish. This was a night to celebrate Trout's inspiring life story, as well as his powerful musical legacy that finds the artist continuing to release a series of ongoing masterworks that draw strength from his journey and then going out on the road to further develop the force of those tracks. Opening for Trout was Captain Buzz Face, a rising quartet featuring Trout's sons Mike Trout (the singer-guitarist is no relation to the superstar Angels outfielder) and drummer Dylan Trout. The band's sound was mostly focused on a punk rock sound, with the exception of a terrific raucous take on the Howlin' Wolf classic "Commit a Crime." Among the memorable original cuts was the set-ending fast tempo punk rock cut "Let Me Out."