Photo by Chelsey Parker
When I first heard that B.B. King was coming to Calgary I was excited for two reasons: 1. He’s an absolute legend and is arguably the most famous bluesman in the history of music and 2. I thought he was already dead. I wondered if this was perhaps a Tupac-esce hologram type thing (I got the low-def blues?) but nope at 86 years old B.B. is still alive (and kickin’).
We showed up a little late so there were no seats with a good eye line to the center of the stage but we managed to weasel a standing spot in front of sound deck against the rail. The great thing about the venue was that even at the back of the room you’re still close to the stage. The show started with a two-song intro from the B.B. King Band which consisted of keys drums bass guitar and a four-piece brass section all taking turns noodling around and strutting their stuff. You don’t get to tour with this cat without being good at what you do and these guys can play yet they kept the technical instrument masturbation to a minimum which I doubt was the case over at the ‘Dome for Van Halen’s performance on the same night.
Then out came The King of the Blues himself. Almost as wide as he is tall B.B. King gracefully took to center stage and sat down with Lucille his signature Gibson guitar. He politely thanked everyone for coming and began with “I Need You So”; an Ivory Joe Hunter song from 1950 and followed it up with the blues standard “Key To The Highway.” The guy can howl for a man his age. In terms of goofy blues faces B.B. is definitely the king. At times he would crane up his neck and bug his eyes out so far that I couldn’t help but laugh.
Half way through the set he led the crowd in a sing-a-long version of “You Are My Sunshine” and effectively turned half the audience into a bunch of joyful kindergarteners. After that he attempted to play “Rock Me Baby”… for the second time in the set. He laughed in spite of himself and jokingly blamed his forgetfulness on his age. Nobody seemed to mind one bit. For me the highlight of the show was “The Thrill Is Gone.” Classic stuff.
Although I wasn’t overly impressed with his guitar playing which I’m sure was better some years ago I feel pretty blessed to have seen B.B. King that close in person. He’s a charming old man a gracious entertainer and still very much alive.