B.B., King of the Blues, at Northern Lights Theater
The horn section blared, the rhythm section kept a succinct groove, and a white-haired legend slowly walked on stage to raucous applause and a standing ovation. Few performers receive such adoration before even playing a single lick, but B.B. King, outfitted in a shimmering white tux coat with jewel-encrusted guitar-pick cufflinks, is no regular performer — he’s the King of the Blues.
One of the most influential blues guitarists of all time, B.B. King and his trusty guitar Lucille have been wowing audiences and influencing generations of future guitarists with heartfelt songs and his signature style of string bends and fretboard vibrato for decades. On Monday, March 26, the living legend took the stage at the Northern Lights Theater inside Potawatomi Bingo Casino for the second night of his three-night stint in Milwaukee.
At 86 years old, B.B. King doesn’t move as well as he once did, but even being confined to a chair for the duration of the one hour and forty-five minute set, he was as charismatic and charming as any man half his age, even boogie-ing down in his seat throughout the night. After the applause settled and B.B. got comfortable, the first pick of his guitar sent chills that resonated throughout the theater.
As the introductory song wrapped, King went on to introduce his sharply dressed backing band. Made up of eight men whose hair has receded or grayed with age, B.B. made sure to call-out all of these “young men” and give them accolades for their contributions — including his nephew, who spent much of the evening decked out in black shades, playing the sax and giving special praise to his guitarist, and James Bolden, the band leader and trumpet player for the past 30 years.
This group of men were the true backbone of the show. They kept the groove constant and made sure to help out their boss when the dexterity of his aging fingers got the best of him. The first of only six songs played over the course of the evening was the blues standard, “Every Day I Have the Blues.” King originally recorded the track in 1955, and received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2004 with it’s seemingly duet-style with B.B.’s vocals and Lucille’s electric retort.
Then, as often happened throughout the evening, B.B. began discourse with the audience. Offering anecdotes about ways a woman can catch her man in a lie among many others, his backing band gave the perfect atmosphere as the storytelling continued and laughter and shout-outs from the crowd were heard.
In a seamless fashion, he transformed from reminiscing about his past alibis to bellowing out the beginning verse to “Rock Me Baby.” One of his biggest hits, the crowd was especially responsive with hoots and howls coming from all corners of the theater. Taking what seemed to be a half hour to complete the tune, with numerous stops and chattering over the course, B.B. then bolstered into his still popular rendition of “The Thrill is Gone” before also hitting up “Sweet 16,” the T-Bone Walker cover of “Call it Stormy Monday,” and his closer dedicated to all the lovers in the crowd — “Guess Who.”
An interesting phenomenon occurs during any recent B.B. King concert. Most concertgoers don’t go to these shows to hear B.B. belt out deep album cuts or to examine the intricacy of his guitar playing. If they did, they’d be surely disappointed, because nowadays, you go to a B.B. King show to revel in the legend.
Yes, he may only play six complete songs throughout the night, but it’s the legend, the history and the personality that the audience connects with. You go see B.B. King, because the man is B.B. King. You want to hear those stories, you want to hear him talk about his times with second-cousin and blues great Bukka White, you want to see him hit on nearly every living female that crosses his path, you want to see him give a childish smile and emotion as he tilts his head back while he lets Lucille really have it.
For more of Lacy Landre’s photos, check out the full set on Flickr.
B.B. King plays the last of his three-night stint at the Northern Lights Theater and tickets are still available. Visit Paysbig.com for more.