R&B legend Ike Turner has never really been a singer. Best known as the bandleader of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, he also earned his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a guitar stylist, piano player, songwriter and session musician. That one limitation didn’t stop Turner from rocking the house at his first concert in three years, a showcase at Austin, Texas’ annual industry convention, South by Southwest. After hiatus, he has returned fresh and eager to prove, as in the lyrics of “You Can’t Winnum”: “Anything you wasn’t born with, you can learn to live without.”
On “Here and Now,” his new album due May 22, Turner reprises classics such as “Tore Up” and “Rocket 88” with an emphasis on the blues. Turner’s latest sound is a clean, driving, horn-laced boogie owing more to St. Louis than the small-town Mississippi of his upbringing. This show offered a taste of the same.
In Turner’s arrangements, vocals share the spotlight with guitar and keyboard leads. Set opened with a rousing instrumental warm-up by backing band, the eight-member Kings of Rhythm. On the instrumental “Hideaway,” Turner’s signature whammy-bar guitar was in full effect. He swapped guitar for piano on “Swanee River Boogie,” punching in rollicking runs and flourishes over the backing of two other keyboardists.
Audrey Madison, who performed as an Ikette on Turner’s 1996 release “My Blues Country,” sang lead on “Nutbush City Limits” and the Melissa Etheridge hit “I’m the Only One.” Unfortunately, any female vocalist who takes the stage with Ike Turner has to withstand comparison to Tina, and Madison could not. After this brief nod to a major chapter in Turner’s history, the highlight of the set came when Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos joined the band to sing “You Can’t Winnum.”