I’ve seen Dropkick Murphy’s, Bayside, Tokyo Rose and dozens of other supposedly hard-rocking bands live, but let me tell you something: none of them—NONE—rocked as hard as an 84 year-old man, too fat and old to get out of his chair, and his 8-piece band of men in their early to mid-sixties.
Let’s back up a little:
Blues musicians have class. Most of the shows I’ve ever been to, when they say the show starts at 8, they mean 8:30. Not these guys. Both the opening act and B.B.’s crew were down to the minute on what times they said they’d be on stage. Maybe that’s because B.B. is old and has the die-uh-bee-tuz, so he needs to get to bed early, but either way I was quite pleased.
The opening act was Lukas Nelson and the Promise of The Real. The frontman is Willie Nelson’s boy, and lemme tell ya something: that kid can shred. He was doing the whole Pete Townshend play-the-guitar-with-my-teeth-and-look-like-a-badass-in-the-middle-of-a-solo thing. Astonishing. I didn’t really like his voice—he looks and sounds just like his dad—but the guitar was outstanding. I’m still trying to figure out how the hell he sings out the side of his mouth, though. Oh, and I thought their drummer looked like this, both in physical appearance and gestures (No, I don’t mean Buddy Rich, and yes, I realize this is my second reference to the Muppets in under a week).
After Lukas and crew were done, the years and years of watching my favorite movie of all time, The Blues Brothers, came to fruition. It seems like I watched that movie at least every weekend when I was kid, and probably still watch it bi-monthly. And it was just like that scene in the big concert hall where they start singing with Cab Calloway and are suddenly wearing tuxes. B.B.’s 8-piece band walks out (a tenor and baritone sax, two trumpets, a bassist, back-up guitar, keyboard and drums), all in their own style of tuxedo, and they just start rocking: horns blaring, bass-line thumping, keyboard twinkling, and a guitar not named Lucille strumming away. Each member of the group took their turn to come to center-stage to play a solo, and as to be expected, blew everyone’s socks off.
And then the baritone saxophonist came up to the mic, with a voice so tiny for such a big instrument, and said “Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the King of the Blues to the stage, Mr. B.B. King!” Everyone lost it.
Let me tell you something about B.B. King. He is not an impressive-looking man. Granted, at 84 years old, he can look however the hell he wants, and everyone else can just get over it—and that was exactly the attitude he took. He walked (well, shuffled) on stage wearing the most gaudy tuxedo jacket I’ve ever seen—white jacket, black lapels, embroidered with green vines and purple orchids all across it. He plopped his big ass down in his chair, set in center-stage, picked up Lucille, and made her sing. Sort of.
For the first 45 minutes of the show, B.B. just sat there, throwing in the occasional twang off of his guitar while the rest of his band played, and took 5-10 minute interludes between songs to just talk to the audience. At one point he took his glass of pineapple juice and passed it around to the people standing directly in front of him. “Just take a sip! I need to keep my blood sugar up, so don’t hog it all, alright?” he said. Later on, he wove a little yarn for the crowd:
“Well, about three weeks ago, after we got back from Europe, my doctor called me up. Says he’s got a case of the blues, doesn’t know what to do, so he figures he should call his favorite blues musician and see what he should do. Says it hurts so bad that he can’t sit down. I tell him to fax whatever it is that’s bothering him over to me so I can have a look. Says he can’t fax it, but’ll send it my way and I’ll have it in a few days. Well, come a few days later, I get a box in the mail and open it up. It’s filled with blue pills! I take a good look at ‘em pills, look at my dog, King, and say ‘Aww, hell, I can eat five o’ six of these,’ and King gives me one of those looks where you know he don’t speak English but you know he thinks you’re stupid. So turns out, now it hurts so bad that I can’t sit down. That damn ol’ Dr Viagra done it to me again. Problem is, I gotta go to the studio and record, and I can’t very well go lookin’ like I do. So I go to the Walmart and I buy myself a pair of big baggy overalls, and as I’m checkin’ out the gal says to me ‘Hey, ain’t you B.B. King?’ and I say ‘Why yes ma’am, I am.’ She asks me about how good my medical care is at my age, because I’m obviously being taken care of. Says her friend wants to know about that same care that I’m gettin’, yunno, for her husband an’ all. I meet her friend, and ask her how old her old man is. Thirty-five, she says. ‘Aww, honey, just leave him be and come with me. I’ll introduce you to my medical staff myself: Doctors Viagra, Cialis and Lavitra. Heh heh…yeah…”
Mind you, I’m paraphrasing, but this went on for ten minutes. Normally this would be filed under “Rambles of an Incoherent Old Man,” but no. Everyone was entranced, which is why I feel comfortable paraphrasing. We hung on his every word. The man’s the definition of a raconteur.
At this point, he threw the horn-section off the stage, and had his back-up guitarist and bassist sit down next to him, and they just played. Dear lord, did they play. He made that guitar sing like in ways which I had never heard. It was astonishing. Do yourself a favor and make a concerted effort to see the man before he dies. It’ll be worth every cent.
There was something else which occurred to me about B.B.: the man has a hideous mustache. It must be genetic, because his nephew, the tenor saxophonist, had just an ugly of a mustache (though his was compensated for with some classic Ray-Ban sunglasses). But it didn’t matter. The man, for being so… so… old—old enough that his band-members looked young in comparison—put off the vibe of the coolest mother-effer you ever met in your life. I mean, the man’s probably gotten more tail than, well, something nonsexual that gets a lot of tail (work with me here, folks). Sure, I’m not the most famous blues-musician in history, nor do I have a rumbling bass-note for a voice, but daggonit, if B.B. King can do it, so can I. This mustache shall not ruin me.
Sweet shirt, huh?