It was the kind of moment that most in the audience at the Keswick Theatre on Saturday night - by the looks of it - could understand. While Delbert McClinton was delivering one of his most affecting ballads, "You Were Never Mine," the 69-year-old singer momentarily forgot the words to the second verse.
That turned out to be the only stumble in a rousing performance of nearly two hours. McClinton's age may also be showing in the way his pungent Texas rasp is fraying around the edges, but his barroom-forged amalgam of rhythm-and-blues, honky-tonk, rock, and soul shows no signs of wear. It's as robust as ever, reaffirming his stature as one of the greats of American music.
One of the reasons for McClinton's lofty stature, besides the indelible musical synthesis he has crafted, is the high quality he has maintained as a writer, singer of his own songs and others', and harmonica player over a career that began in the 1960s and hit its stride in the '70s. In fact, he has done some of his best work over the last 15 years. Thus, on Saturday night, newer material such as the swaggering "Do It," the border-flavored lament "When Rita Leaves," and the yearning "Starting a Rumor" matched up to old favorites such as "Two More Bottles of Wine," "B Movie Boxcar Blues," and his 1981 hit, "Giving It Up for Your Love."
McClinton's terrific band of young bucks has a name of its own, Dick50. Guitarist Rob McNelley, keyboardist Kevin McKendree, bassist Steve Mackey, and drummer Lynn Williams - augmented by saxophonist Dennis Taylor and trumpeter Scott Ducaj - provided a strong rhythmic bed and plenty of color. The band took the spotlight for an interlude featuring two songs from its fine debut album, Lateshow, without appreciably slowing the momentum of McClinton's performance.
Dick50 also displayed the finesse to handle the jazzier elements that surfaced on McClinton's most recent album, Acquired Taste. One number, "Until Then," starts out sounding, oddly enough, as though it's more suitable for a supper club. But as McClinton and Dick50 performed it Saturday night, it slowly, inexorably - and fittingly - headed straight for the roadhouse.
Another Texan, James McMurtry, opened the show in troubadour mode, spinning spellbinding heartland tales in a solo acoustic setting.