I’m sure there were diehard blues fans swooning when B.B. King and Buddy Guy announced they would tour together during February of 2009. I admit to being one of those who thought this was the must have ticket of the year and promptly made arrangements to get mine the day they went on sale for the Providence Performing Arts Center. Once the precious slip of paper was in hand I went about boasting that I was going only to be warned that it wouldn’t be what I expected.
And just what was I expecting? I was expecting the blues classics delivered with tried and true gritty blues voices. I was expecting to feel the vibrations of the guitar as they rattled through my chest leaving no question about their guitar god status. I wanted to hear the stuff that legends are made of and I wanted to be excited, and rocked, and floored and I expected to be feeling high from the whole experience for days to come.
The warning had came from a trusted source that claimed B.B. wasn’t all he had been. Even ten years ago when he saw him last B.B. sat in a chair and talked more than he played. The band was great but the set was small and low energy. My response, as anyone’s should be, “At least I’ll be able to say I saw them. They’re not going to be around forever.” It’s a week later and they are playing their last show as I write this. I have to say even with the warning I was greatly disappointed.
Buddy Guy did Someone Else is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ out, Slippin’ in) as an audience participation piece which we weren’t aware of until we let him down during the first chorus. It was the back up band’s guitarist slipping into the more stellar guitar parts. And 9 year old Quinn Sullivan taking it to the next level on Who’s Gonna Fill Those Shoes. The actual Buddy Guy licks were few and far between. Despite this nothing can be taken away from the vocal, which was truly amazing. Two standouts were Skin Deep and Feels Like Rain.
I was lucky enough to be seated next to the rhythmically challenged woman who thought the sun rose and set on B.B. King. She clapped off beat and loved every one of his stories and wasn’t shy about shouting into the ears of the people around her about just how much she loved him. I found him long winded and monotone. With a soft droning beat of the band behind him he just about lulled me to sleep. If you were hoping for the more popular songs like Lucille and Riding with the King you were out of luck. There was a decent rendition of I Got A Mind To Give Up Livingthat was prefaced by a story about how his children didn’t want him to sing such a thing. At the age of 83 I can see how they would think it might be tempting fate. B.B. is nonplused by his children’s concern and goes right on playing it. Again his playing was sparse but like Buddy the voice was perfect. The major problem I had was, with one or two exceptions, that he didn’t play any song in its entirety. He would start a story, segue into a song for a verse and a half and just when you were getting into it he stopped playing and started talking again. The night ended with a single verse of The Thrill Is Gone and sadly for me it was. At least I can say I saw them.