The blues is a funny ol' gal. By definition, the musical genre is a projection of the sadness and melancholy caused by a broken heart, or the lament of a "just can't catch a break" life. Yet the sold out crowd at the House of Blues on Friday night exhibited the exact opposite of sadness and downtrodden as they danced, whooped, and hollered, seemingly having the time of their lives.
The first thing Aftermath noticed was how unusually hot the venue felt, unsure if it was caused by the size of the crowd or a broken A/C. Or perhaps it was a done on purpose to more closely resemble a summer night on the Mississippi Delta. With sweat beaming on our brows, we took refuge at the soundboard as Eric Dremmer and the Sax Dawgs (with Evelyn Rubio) opened with a Spanglish blues tune whose name we assume is "La Mujer Que Canta Blues" (The Woman Who Sings Blues). Both Rubio and Dremmer are masterful saxophonists, and treated the early birds to soaring solos and ended with a smooth cover of Eric Clapton's "Change The World."
As B.B.'s band took the stage, our anticipation grew. This was Aftermath's third B.B. King show, the other two more than ten years ago at the Houston Arena Theater. His band sounded just as stellar and refined as we remember, taking turns at the center microphone with alternating solos. But the intro seemed to drag, as if they were stalling for time. The King will take the stage when he is good and ready, it seemed.
After about twenty minutes, His Majesty arrived. At a youthful eighty-six years old, Mr. King strolled onto the stage to the cheers of his adoring fans. He took his throne and revved up "Every Day I Have The Blues", halfway singing and halfway bantering with the crowd. He playfully asked the crowd if they felt like singing, and told them to "shake your booty if you want to." And they did.
Lucille, his guitar, was finally placed in his lap, and although his body has slowed and weakened due to age and illness, his fingers have not lost any vigor. He plucked the strings dynamically and with determination as the band started up "When Love Comes To Town." King played and danced in his chair with the energy of a man half his age. It made us feel like we were all no longer in Downtown Houston, but transported to a bar on Bourbon Street, or a club on Beale Street. Either way, this was blues heaven.
And then, it happened. The most famous blues bassline for "The Thrill Is Gone" began, and it hit us with the force of a thousand heartaches. The crowd savored this offering as if it were gumbo from heaven, and all was well in the kingdom.
The set itself was short, maybe an hour. King spent much of that hour talking, but hey, he is the king. An abbreviated hour with a legend is still very magical, even if it doesn't live up to expectations.
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Personal Bias: I was given "B.B. King Live at the Apollo" as a teenager, it was one of my favorite CD's for many years.
The Crowd: Middle Aged with lots of energy
Overheard In The Crowd: "Can you take off your hat, we can't see back here."
Random Notebook Dump: I was told that I needed to shoot/review from the soundboard, but other photogs were allowed in the pit. I'm thinking of writing a song called "Photographer Life Blues."