“Our Last Time” from the live album Live: From Across the Pond
Audio File

I bet that someone like Tesla — the guy who ginned up his own lightning — could explain the science of great performances: how energy drawn from the audience multiplies in some geometrical progression and gets the whole joint buzzing, like lightning stirs the air. Tesla might have measured the amped-up, feel-good ozone of a great show and mathematically determined, for instance, the coefficient of Robert Cray. Maybe all that would have explained the dilemma of Tues. Oct. 16 at Charleston Music Hall.

Cray is at the top of his game, still reaching higher. His Charleston audience was not shy with their love. “You’re hot!” one woman shouted. And from the guy who couldn’t keep it in, “Make it sing, Bobby!”

Bobby did make it sing, and his band was right there with him. Bassist Karl Sevareid and drummer Kevin Hayes held the groove like race horses hugging the rail. Keyboardist Jim Pugh lit up the stage. Cray himself offered up so many flavors on his plate of tasty licks that the crowd, as an old jazz friend might say, “got lost in the good sauce.” They had arrived eager to jump on the party train — hardly noticed when Cray began to steer toward a few interesting detours. Hence the dilemma.

Mr. “Make it sing, Bobby!” ceased to provoke a smile with his boozy exuberance after the fourth repetition. He, and a few others, shouted right over a beautifully rendered, very soft guitar solo. Cray, obviously hoping for a little breathing room, tapped his guitar pick on the mic — a gentle request for the audience to bring it down so his guitar could be heard. He waited four bars, tapped again, still hoping to get back into his solo. It didn’t work.

During the next three numbers, Cray’s set unravelled a bit, out of sync with the room, until the thread got picked up once more with the final song and two encores. All’s well that ends well — even when happy hecklers make your job harder. It’s just that Cray, who mirrored his Charleston audience’s early enthusiasm by saying, “You know, I just might move here,” may have ended up deciding that — like his audience — he, too, had gotten just a little carried away. —Jon Santiago

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.