Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan & the Tilt-a-Whirl Band Arena Theatre August 30, 2013
By now most Buddy Guy fans know to pack an extra pinch of salt between their cheek and gum before going to see him live. The man does go on sometimes.
The Louisiana-born septuagenarian bluesman's credentials extend quite a bit further than Friday's scripted introduction of "six-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer." He's also a ham whose mugging ability is second only to Bill Cosby (maybe), an ornery old cuss unafraid to drop an f-bomb at the drop of his spiffy white flat cap, and -- lest we forget -- a 2012 Kennedy Center honoree and the last surviving member of Chess Records' formidable '50s and '60s roster, which starts with Guy's mentor Muddy Waters.
Guy assured the sizable but not quite sold-out Arena Theatre crowd he could play all night, but stuck to within a few minutes of his allotted hour and a half of stage time. While a few more minutes of "Messin' With the Kid" wouldn't have hurt at all, what he gave us turned out to be plenty.
Closing with that old Chicago standard, which Guy made famous with his old harmonica foil Junior Wells, amounted to a less than triumphant ending -- the house lights were up even before some members of Guy's four-piece band were offstage -- but he had already made one remarkable recovery.
Frankly it's a wonder he had anything left at all after opener "Damn Right I've Got the Blues." About the least subtle thing about Guy's leadoff cut was his thrusting his hips against his guitar. It's a powerful, angry song (and one of his best), one where the pain and frustration are almost palpable, and Guy's flamboyance -- which extended to flapping his arms during the next song, "Five Long Years" -- only fanned the flames.
By this point he resembled an old-timy preacher, grunting, gasping and practically speaking in tongues. His faces were almost as priceless as the stories he told while pausing for breath: giving a shoutout to Lightnin' Hopkins while remembering the days when "every time I saw a white face I said 'hide the wine bottle' because it's a policeman," or about not having running water until age 17 during Waters' epic "Hoochie Coochie Man."
In that one, Guy unleashed one unruly barrage of notes after another while circling the auditorium's perimeter and at one point paused in the aisle; the sea of cameraphones surrounding him made the scene resemble a sudden NFL press conference. When he reached one of the bar areas, it created quite a night-vision effect on the overhead video screen.
It was good, good stuff, and you got the feeling he knew it.
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Guy must be acutely aware of his significant place in post-WWII music history. After a couple of newer tunes and Peggy Lee's ever-alluring "Fever," he walked us through it by way of an abbreviated biography -- besides the previously covered Muddy Waters, of course -- a familiar occurrence at his shows.
It commenced with Ray Charles' "What'd I Say," continued with John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom Boom Boom," touched on Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar," and gathered more steam on the extended jam through Cream's "Strange Brew" where, I swear, I saw his toes curl. The medley concluded with Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," where Guy played with his teeth, behind his back and rubbed his guitar on his hindquarters for good measure.
None of that was as emotional or revealing as what came next. Guy brought out a crimson guitar, which sounded somewhat like a sitar, and sang "Skin Deep," a Sam Cooke-style soul ballad about his late mother. She suffered a stroke in Baton Rouge shortly after he left Louisiana, he explained more than once during the evening, and never got to see her son become a star
It brought the crowd, which had been hooting and hollering his name all night long, to a standstill. Buddy Guy is a great interpreter of other people's songs, and has chosen his material wisely his entire life. But when he's just being himself, it can be enough to send goosebumps down your back.
The heebie-jeebies, you might say.
How About That Opener? Looking fully recovered from his heart attack earlier this year, Jimmie Vaughan and his Tilt-a-Whirl Band made an excellent contrast to the demonstrative Guy. The 62-year-old Texas blues elder is one of the most stoic human beings on the planet... except making sex faces while piecing together one of his needlenose licks and solos.
There were plenty of those during Vaughan's hourlong set of prime swamp pop and Gulf Coast boogie, which entered yet another plane when Lou Ann Barton strode out to drawl through tunes like "In the Middle of the Night" and "Boom Bapa Boom." Vaughan and crew live so close, it sure would be nice if they came through town more often than every year or two.
Personal Bias: It's usually blues time around my house.
The Crowd: Unusually rowdy and shouty for an older, nearly all-white bunch. Ate Guy up and came back for seconds.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Play one for Stevie Ray!" -- guess during which of the two sets that happened.
Random Notebook Dump: I would like to lodge a formal complaint about the Arena's replacing many of its old show posters that used to line the corridors in favor of some drab, not particularly compelling abstract artwork. What happened?
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