B.B. King shows no signs of slowing down

A review of B.B. King at the South Shore Music Circus on August 22, 2009

, Staff Writer

Riley “B.B.” King has more than enough accomplishments to hang his hat on: he is easily one of the greatest guitarists of all-time, influencing an entire generation of blues guitarists with his thoroughly unique and virtuosic playing style. He has performed with everybody from Eric Clapton to Gladys Knight and has over fifteen-thousand other concerts under his belt. And yet B.B., at 83 years old, is still on the road. The King of the Blues and his band gave a perfect summer concert this past Saturday at the South Shore Music Circus, immediately winning over the audience and keeping them entertained on a night where the humidity finally decided to let up for a bit.

The South Shore Music Circus is a great place to catch a show like B.B. King. Granted, the setup doesn’t leave much room for dancing, but the rotating stage and smaller size mean every seat is a good one, and there’s a certain intimacy that is rarely achieved at a medium-sized outdoor venue.

As he was wheeled down to the stage, King had his hands out, welcoming nearby fans to lean into the aisle and say hello. When he took the stage, before touching his guitar, he sat in his chair and took a moment to toss picks out to the kids in the crowd. And then, of course, he started to play: while King might not have the dexterity at 83 that he did when he was 43, the man can still play the crap out of a guitar. His tone is the same familiar one that he has carried with him throughout his career, dirty and just a bit distant with a nice sharp bite with every note. B.B.’s head swayed left and right as he looked up into space while playing his instrument. After jamming with his band for a few minutes, he let his vocals loose with “I Need You So”, setting aside any doubts that there might not be any chops left in that voice of his. King’s vocals are just as dirty and forceful as his guitar playing is, seemingly only bolstered by the years of use.

It should be said that he also loves his banter: arguably a third of the concert was taken up by B.B. just shooting the breeze with the audience. When a woman rolled a poster onto the stage, he brought her up, kissed her on the cheek, and signed the poster, not fazed in the slightest. Before dedicating a lengthy “You Are My Sunshine” to all the women in the room, he spent a good ten minutes talking to the men about appreciating their ladies, and had the couples in attendance kiss on the count of four. The whole evening had a very comfortable feel to it – such an absurdly famous man sitting in the middle of a rotating stage with hundreds of people looking down on him, and he sat happily in his chair, regaling us with stories, giving life advice like a grandfather would. He even took a moment to express his gratitude to Doctors “Viagra, Cialis and Levitra.”

“One Kind Favor” was somewhat more somber, the main lyric of the song asking a friend to “see that my grave is kept clean.” Certainly we all were aware of his age, and that B.B. King is one of the last great blues guitarists still around, but the man is doing well for himself. Heck, he’s still touring when he surely could have retired comfortably years ago. King himself acknowledged this, but was just as quick to mention how much he loves touring and performing, further evidenced by the fact that he will be on the road pretty much through the rest of 2009. The show ended with “The Thrill Is Gone”, which got everyone going. B.B.’s solos only ever lasted three or four verses, but he filled those verses with some amazingly soulful guitar playing. Every note had a very specific purpose to the solo, and King made excellent use of spaces between his notes, building anticipation and leaving room for reflection in between his phrases.

As one of the still-living legends of the guitar, B.B. King can probably get away with anything. He could play “When The Saints Go Marching In” for an hour straight and people would still be perfectly happy to have been to that show. Simply seeing him perform is worth the price of admission, but you don’t become the king by just getting old and fading away. In light of this, King showed that he clearly still has got some serious chops. His voice sounds as good as ever, and Lucille still rings true when he plucks those strings as perfectly as he does.

Leave a Reply