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B.B.King, Royal Albert Hall, London,
28 May 2011
Royal Albert Hall show was a triumph of spectacle and occasion over
substance. For tonight was all about celebrating the life and times of a
living blues legend and his enduring blues heritage.
spectacle came from both his band - a de facto mini orchestra with a
magnificent horn section - and a roll call of guests that comprised
Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Ronnie Wood, Slash
and Mick Hucknall.
occasion was B.B.King holding court at The Albert Hall for possibly the
last time in the manner of an experienced Las Vegas veteran using his
spontaneous sense of humour to paper over the musical cracks.
experience a B.B. King show in 2011 is to be part of the kind of
multi-cultural audience that would make market research companies
salivate, and who were there to will on an aged blues icon who has
swapped his best licks for his adopted role as a vivacious raconteur.
knows his knows his audience well, asking them 'Are you ready to have a
little fun with me tonight?' And from that moment on he never looked
also an experience tinged with a little sadness in as much as he can
only muster a few of his trademark vibratos, string bends and wholesome
notes while his sweet toned vocal has been reduced to a growl.
his understanding of the importance of dynamics remains very acute, from
the way he played a handful of telling notes at the end of a couple of
horn parts to the timing of his story telling.
And with the
sight of their octogenarian hero clearly enjoying himself the crowd were
willing to sacrifice their collective musical memories for one more
chance to catch a performer who is the personification of the blues.
If BB does have a sense of frustration about how time has robbed him of
his powers, he's obviously traded any traces of resignation for the
chance to tour more times, being unafraid to talk about his age and
seemingly happy to simply carry the blues torch for newer generations.
compensated for his diminished abilities with a stream of consciousness
approach full of vignettes, quips and band banter, all of which provide
him with the crucial connection with his audience. And despite several
apparently abandoned songs and perfunctory endings he carried his crowd
with him to an uplifting conclusion.
At times there were still glimpses of the former self, most notably on
way he phrased the blues love song 'I Need You So' and on the immortal
line he lent to Paul Butterfield; 'I've got a good mind to give up
living, and go shopping instead'.
gentle slow blues also perfectly illustrated his less is more approach.
But he struggled fitfully for his vibrato on a languid 'Key To the
Highway' and it wasn't until the closing 'Guess Who' that I remember him
singing the whole of a song, in this case with real feeing and spirit.
guests were significant in as much as they represented BB's crossover
connection with the rock, blues and commercial soul and they all took
their place seated front porch style across the stage.
Trucks' subtle slide playing on 'Rock Me' was the perfect foil for
Tedeschi's vocals and nimble guitar lines, though by the time BB had
encouraged them both to repeat their parts three times over, the song
lost some of its momentum.
Ronnie Wood, Tedeschi and Trucks all took their turns to weave in and
out of a meandering slow blues, leaving a somewhat underused Mick
Hucknall to make the most of an all too rare opportunity to duet with
And as we
headed towards a big finale with 'The Thrill Is Gone' and an emotive
'Guess Who' there was the unusual sight of a B.B. King audience rushing
forward to the front of the stage. BB remained calm and led the 14 piece
ensemble and fever pitch crowd into a gospel revival style 'When The
Saints Go Marching In',
Here was living proof that blues can still work its magic on both
performer and audience alike. It just takes a special catalyst like BB
to ignite the spark.
Photos by Noel
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