Blue Notes

Friday Night: B.B. King at House of Blues

B.B. King House of Blues January 11, 2013

"An abbreviated hour with a legend is still very magical, even if it doesn't live up to expectations."

There is no dispute, Mr. Riley B. King embodies the blues moreso than anyone has ever embodied anything, ever. He was born in Mississippi, cut his teeth in Memphis, has won countless Grammy Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement award), was inducted into both the Blues and Rock and Roll Hall of Fames, and is friendly with President Obama.

King is a man so respected and lauded for his talent, charm, and contributions to American music history, that when the last note rings out from his guitar Lucille, when he finally "packs my suitcase and move(s) on down the line," that's when the real blues will commence.

Friday night in Houston, the standing room only, sold-out House of Blues crowd was blessed to see Mr. King in what may very well be his last tour. I can't imagine him touring for much longer. His mind may be quick and his tongue flashy, but his body is worn from decades of touring, traveling and living life to the max.

The band began to warm up the crowd promptly at 9 p.m., alternating between horn, keyboard, and bass solos and exhibiting crisp, meticulous, heartfelt music that was fitting for, yes, a king. Then after two ten-minute songs, the man of the hour was introduced.

And the crowd roared. King turned and waved. The crowd roared some more. He blew kisses towards the balcony. Roars. He threw guitar picks into the front row. Yep, roars galore. It sounded what I imagine the Roman Colosseum would have sounded like when a popular gladiator was introduced into the arena. It was beautiful.

"I Need You So" was the evening's opening number. The lyrics speak about a love playing hard to get who spends too much time away from home, but it also works well to tell the audience that a good show can only truly be great with sincere crowd participation: "If I can't have you, I cannot go on."

And of course, the crowd responded. The ambience was intimate, standing shoulder to shoulder, swaying and clapping to each selection. "Everyday I Have the Blues" followed, and the uptempo rhythms caused a stir throughout the venue. The dancing and shimmying of white people is the best.

One of the things I love about great music is the instant recognition of a great song after hearing only the first few notes. Mr. King has several songs in his arsenal that fit this bill. "Rock Me Baby," which he played next, is definitely one of them. He may be almost 90 years old, but his fingers still pull, pluck and play those strings like a young kid busking in the juke joints of Memphis.

"Come out here, man!" he called to the side of the stage. And Billy Gibbons did. And the crowd went crazy. I was told that there would be a special guest, but this was still surprising and awesome. The two men embraced and smiled like two old high school buddies catching up after decades of loosing touch.

Indeed, they joked with each other and told old stories of recording in the studio long ago. Something about a fan asking "Yea, you may be Billy Gibbons, but can you introduce me to B.B. King?!"

A chair and a guitar was brought out for the sharp-dressed man. The song they chose to sing was "You Are My Sunshine," Not the Ray Charles track, but the nursery rhyme. "We're in G," BB told Billy. And then, one of the most amazing and beautiful moments in Houston concert history happened. The two legends played, the crowd sang, and for those few minutes it seemed that all the world's troubles were gone and only happiness remained.

Happiness, at a blues concert? I'll be damned.

Personal Bias: The blues been good to me...

The Crowd: Hardcore blues lovin' people, young and old.

Overheard In The Crowd: "You're beautiful, B.B.!"

Random Notebook Dump: In order to accommodate the sold-out crowd, the photo pit was decreased by 50 percent. It was very tight in there, but myself and the other photogs played nice and still got some great shots. Everyone wins!