Link Wray, the man who played rock’s first important D chord way back in ’58, immediately signaled his no-holds-barred approach to unbridled instrumental rock at the House of Blues. Stalking the stage in a sleeveless black T-shirt from Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, R.I., he hit that D chord and launched into “Rumble,” making it sound as fierce as it did 40 years ago.
Touring in support of “Shadowman,” released by Universal’s Hip-O imprint, Wray tackled all his raunch ‘n’ roll trademarks: “Fatback,” “Run Chicken Run,” Neal Hefti’s “Batman Theme” and other numbers that are little more than derivations on those established themes. Yet Wray has come quite a distance from guttural strums and single-note piercing solos. He now maximizes the midrange of the guitar, vibrato ever at the ready, and even twists his solo on Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” into something approximating Jimi Hendrix’s song of the same name.
Wray, 68, slowed down for a Hank Williams number, dedicated to his wife, who spent the evening dancing on the side of the stage, pouring wine and taking pictures. Show ended on a distortion-filled jam with the Pixies’ Joey Santiago, about the only misfire in 75 minutes of aggressive vintage rock ‘n’ roll.
Country icon Buck Owens opened the evening with trademark California honky-tonk and, despite his throat cancer, Owens sounds re-markably sturdy. His set got a huge boost at about the midpoint when Dwight Yoakam joined in for two Merle Haggard numbers and their hit from 10 years ago, “Streets of Bakersfield,” though Owens seemed to tire at the end of their 90-minute show.