(Detroit, Michigan) February 16, 2009 - At what point does a concert event become a life-changing experience? When does the mere presence of an artist allow us to stand in fascination of their legacy? Though there are many acts that astound us with their musical and visual brilliance, few artists can walk out on a stage and command the respect of thousands without strumming a single chord or belting out a solitary brilliant lyrical line.
Monday evening’s B. B. King/Buddy Guy performance at the beautiful Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit, Michigan was momentous to say the least. To watch these two blues legends walk from the backstage shadows into the welcoming spotlight and heartfelt cheers from fans was staggering to see. Their physical presence was accompanied with not only an astounding body of work, but a look back to more difficult times - a time of inequality, survival and an escape through the beauty of music.
Supporting his latest release “Skin Deep” which was nominated for Best Traditional Blues Album at this year’s Grammy Awards, Buddy Guy confidently set the pace for the evening. With an exceptionally tight band stopping on shots commanded by their legendary leader, Buddy declared that he creates his music first with a cool guitar riff. Providing an example on his cream-coloured Fender Stratocaster, Guy silenced the band and gave way to a funky, punchy blues phrase certain to resurrect the spirit of the late “Father of Chicago Blues” himself Muddy Waters. In his black jump suit, he commented on how blues music seems no longer relevant on today’s radio stations, but that for one evening its energy would fill the auditorium to the rafters.
Now 72 years vibrant, George “Buddy” Guy, born to a sharecropper’s family and raised on a plantation, has been seen as an influence to various amazing guitar heroes the likes of Hendrix, Clapton, Beck and Vaughan. His soul-lifting simplistic musical style and “call-answer” approach to guitar playing reminded us of how true-rooted blues music is supposed to sound. In fact, it was often the notes that Buddy didn’t play that made his music so captivating.
With the crowd now in full gear the anticipation of co-headliner and renowned “King of the Blues” B. B. King was unbearable. With just his band jamming out two blues shuffles and proving their own musical muscle on their respective instruments through well- placed solo spots, Mr. King’s silhouette could be seen in the distance. Now finally welcoming their larger-than-life last and most important member, the crowd let out a deafening roar that was louder than the band themselves. His presence in the room was felt by everyone as they immediately rose to the feet in support of a man who is possibly the greatest and most influential blues artist of the 20th Century.
With Lucille well in toe, the now 83 year-old King, also supporting his newly released Grammy-winning “One Kind Favor”, sat atop a chair alongside a microphone which he referred to more so than his guitar for the most of the evening. Joking that he could no longer stand through an entire night’s show an admiring crowd seemed simply spellbound in witness of this legend. His beefy guitar tone and smoky vocal style was what one would expect from King.
From story-telling to convincing guitar riffs complete with his traditional bends and one-finger vibrato, B. B. celebrated his long-time career through his timeless music. Songs turned into jams and the energy onstage could certainly be felt offstage in the 5000-seat venue filled to capacity. It was a night to truly celebrate this powerful and significant form of music which has inspired many other genres form jazz to rock and roll.
With both B. B. King’s 60-year/50-album legacy and Buddy Guy’s astounding influence on electric blues both well-cemented in the musical history books, they are still going strong. In a time when manufactured artists seem to be ‘cropping’ up quicker than what grew on those old Louisiana cotton fields, fans can only hope that for these two music icons the thrill for music will never be gone.