www.myspace.com/chicagobluesguide Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Paramount Arts Center
October 17, 2009
By Mark Baier
Photos: Dianne Bruce Dunklau
At 84 years old, the legendary B.B. King is in a class by himself. His influence on the artistry and culture of post WWII America is almost incalculable, his name being synonymous with the Blues, whether you travel to New York, New Delhi or New South Wales. B.B. King has proven his point, and then some. So that on a chilly Saturday evening in October, a standing room only crowd gathered at Aurora’s lavish Paramount Arts Center to witness this Blues icon in the twilight of his extraordinary career. Except nobody told B.B. King that he was in the twilight of his career! From the moment the curtain opened promptly at 9 p.m. and the eight-piece band locked down on the signature ensemble sound (often imitated but never duplicated), B.B. King captivated a flock of 1,800 for two solid hours with virtuoso guitar playing, commanding vocals, intimate storytelling and beguiling showmanship.
After two snappy big band blues revue style songs, B.B. strode on stage, looking perfectly luminous in a deep maroon patterned tuxedo. Addressing the audience for the initial time, he stated that “I bet you think I’m too old to stand up and play the guitar. Well, you’re half right!” At that he assumed a place on his throne (a large plush red chair) and hit that first note. It has been said that B.B. King can say more with one note than any other can do with a hundred, and from the very first moment of his performance, he demonstrated that with authority. B.B. King OWNS that note!
For two solids hours he and the band ran through a greatest hits collection of the blues that covered everything from prewar classics to modern rock-infused tunes. Starting with Why I Sing the Blues, he gave lessons in Blues, Life and Love checking in on Key to the Highway, Nobody Loves Me, Everyday I Have the Blues, If I Can’t Have You, 3 O’Clock in the Morning, It’s My Own Fault, Nobody Loves Me But My Mother , When Love Comes to Town, and You Are My Sunshine! Time and time again B.B. took the guitarists in the audience to school with his emotional, magnificent phrasing and characteristic delivery. And while his guitar playing only seems to have matured over his lifetime as a performer, B.B. King’s vocals captivated the assembled with equal impact. Never shying away from a note or phrase, King delivered with the conviction and passion of a truly great performer.
Throughout the show, B.B. reminisced and invited the audience into his life, recounting stories from his youth (On being drafted: “I don’t have no Uncle Sam! I have an Uncle Bob and an Uncle Carl, but no Uncle Sam!) On numerous occasions, he complimented the women in his life, past and present, most notably dedicating You Are My Sunshine and It’s My Own Fault to the “angels in the audience”. The latter song afforded King the opportunity to preach to the men with introspections into the fairer sex’s opinion on liquor. To wit, “Women don’t mind us men drinking, it’s coming home drunk that pisses them off”! He also seemed somewhat repentant about his “Roving Eye” and the plethora of women in his life, at one point calling an adorable young girl on stage and introducing her as a grandaughter he’d never met! The marketing department at Viagra should take note; B.B. King has no intention of slowing down!
The most intimate portion of the evening was B.B.’s reading of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s See That My Grave Is Kept Clean. B.B. King, for all his corporeal power, is mindful of the inevitable finality of life, and he is at peace with his being and his life. This classic, heart- wrenching melody has never been more convincingly intoned.
The evening was capped by a rendition of B.B.’s signature, The Thrill Is Gone, and with the final strains of that classic, Riley B. King was escorted off stage by what looked to be a contingent of enormous secret service agents, and the evening had come to a close. It was two hours that seemed to pass like 10 minutes, and it was filled with joy, humility and power.
At 84, B.B. King has nothing left to prove. That he is still willing to share his unique and gifted life with the world is a testament to his greatness. In truth, B.B. King isn’t 84 years old, he is eternal.
An extra added surprise was the inclusion of Lukas Nelson, the son of the one and only Willie Nelson. A guitar slinger in the vein of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Guy, Lukas slammed through a 45-minute set of intense string stretching, delivered in the classic guitar hero/power trio tradition. At the tender age of 20, Nelson let this SRO crowd know that his life “On The Road Again” prepared him well for carrying on the weighty musical legacy of his family name.
This otherwise perfect evening was marred only by the scattered outbursts and catcalls from the audience, a few of which treated the stately lavish surroundings of the Paramount Arts Center like a West Side blues bar by yelling out incoherent song requests and self-assured suggestions at the stage. (This reviewer feels that such behavior was not the proper decorum for an event of this caliber.)