Review: B. B. King shows Carlton crowd he just gets better with ageAt age 84, after 60 years and 15,000 shows in 90 different countries, B.B. King showed a capacity crowd of 1,700 at the Black Bear Casino in Carlton Sunday evening that he still glows with enthusiasm for what he does.
By: John Ziegler, For the News Tribune, Pine Journal
He still has that gleam in his eye.
At age 84, after 60 years and 15,000 shows in 90 different countries, B.B. King showed a capacity crowd of 1,700 at the Black Bear Casino in Carlton Sunday evening that he still glows with enthusiasm for what he does.
It’s a look that’s part intensity, part confidence, but mostly the excitement and passion of a 14-year-old kid who just plugged his first electric guitar into his first amp. It’s a look that’s joyful and transcendent at the same time.
The “King of the Blues” strode out in his signature black jacquard tuxedo, complete with baby blue vest and black bow tie; his crack band just tearin’ it up behind him. He reached into his coat pocket and threw out a handful of guitar picks that had the front row scampering after them like they were gold nuggets.
He tore into “Why I Sing The Blues” like a starving puma. His voice can sound one minute like a little boy pleading for forgiveness, and the next like a raging grizzly bear. His beloved guitar “Lucille” has truly been kissed by angels. Searing and seductive for one bar, quivering with his trademark vibrato the next, sounding like it’s buried in mud the next. His use of space is second to none, as King plays silence better than most artists can play notes.
He sits down most nights as the legs are weary after all those years and all those shows, but it doesn’t diminish his power one iota.
Warren Jack of Ft. Myers, Fla., said “There’s B.B. King and a few guys like him, then there’s all the countless wannabes.”
Bono’s “When Love Comes To Town” was taken at race-horse tempo with vocals, guitar and band all at full throttle. It sounded at times like King could fill the Otter Creek Event Center without benefit of a vocal mic he has so much lung power.
The B.B. King Blues Band is so skin-tight, so razor sharp and so well rehearsed that they could put many major metro symphony orchestras to shame with their precision. Their dynamics, from whisper-thin cinematic layers to sudden explosions of mammoth riffs, are as thrilling as a roller coaster ride with your eyes closed. They constantly push King to make it so funky you can smell it.
“Every Day I Have the Blues” was taken at a blistering tempo and showed why King’s guitar sound may be one of the most admired and imitated in electric guitar history. King doesn’t try to zoom up and down the fretboard, instead he gets inside the note letting it breath and burn slowly, building tension and offering no release. He can draw the crowd right into the palm of his catchers-mitt sized hand.
On “Key to the Highway” King’s over-the-shoulder glance at bandleader James “Booloo” Bolen told him not to overcook it, but to let the groove build with extra gravy. It was a concert highlight, as King’s creamy guitar sustain left the crowd spellbound.
Bob Peer of Cloquet looked at the room of wall-to-wall people and said “He’s the master of the blues, and it’s clear he can still pack ’em in.”
King has the distinction, within a fairly limited idiom, of achieving what many could only wish for: His style possesses the contradictory qualities of sounding old yet fresh at the same time.
He never stops adding to his repertoire and even pulled out a brand new version of “One Kind Favor” done in New Orleans second-line fashion that’ll grace a future recording.
People traveled from all over the Northland to see “the King.” Mary Azmitia came with her husband from Bennett, Wis. She said “He’s a legend. I can’t believe he’s still traveling at his age.”
B.B. King has spent his entire life bringing the blues to every corner of the globe (China, the Soviet Union and Israel, to name a few). He’s continuously fought to educate people that his chosen music isn’t some sad, mournful, downtrodden relic, but instead vibrant, upbeat and oftentimes happy. He’s received all the honors one could possibly imagine, including The Presidential Medal of Freedom and National Medal of Arts and this year, he was in Time magazine’s list of the 10 greatest electric guitarists, appearing at No. 3. He was one of the first inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He has been the blues’ most well-known practitioner for the past 50 years and its greatest ambassador, and he’s carried that mantle with grace, humility and dignity.
At a time when what is popular and what is of high quality seem ever more divergent, last night in Carl ton, B.B. King showed that he sounds better than ever.
John Ziegler has worked for 35 years in the music industry as an interviewer, host, record producer and professional musician. He reviews music for the News Tribune.