Published on April 25th, 2013 | by Jared Booth0
Review: A Visit With the Legendary King Himself, B.B. King
B.B. King, Elise Testone Band
North Charleston Performing Arts Center, April 23
It was delightful to see the legendary B.B. King at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night. He was a beaming, joyful presence. At the ripe young age of 87, he told goofy stories to the audience, yucked it up with his bandmates (some of whom he has toured with for decades) took the occasional pull on Lucille, which he can still make sound like the guitar he made famous, and displayed small doses of a surprisingly strong singing voice.
Knowing his age, the likely age of the crowd, and the venue, I was relatively prepared for the show I saw: a sit-down, mellow, concert-hall type of performance. I’m generally biased against the more corporate-feeling, less tangible shows, and I didn’t leave feeling particularly musically stimulated, although seeing the gracious and fun-loving Mr. King was a treat. Some of those who paid $60 to $100 for a ticket might not have been too satisfied, however.
Opening for B.B. King, in what must have been the thrill of a lifetime, were local singer Elise Testone and some, but not all, of her excellent band — drummer Daniel Crider, guitarist Wallace Mullinax, and bassist Ben Wells. They played a 35-minute acoustic set on one side of the stage, with several original numbers from Testone’s upcoming album, which the group is currently recording.
Testone seemed a little nervous at first, but she righted the ship with a balls-out cover of Janis Joplin’s “Get It While You Can,” which she delivered with relish. With such a big-sounding song, however, I couldn’t help but wonder why they weren’t playing with a full, electric band, which seemed like it would have been more appropriate for the song. I also got the sense that they didn’t have a choice in the matter. The last song, an original titled “Lucky Day,” was the group’s best, closing the set after a furious acoustic solo from Mullinax and a great crescendo from the rest of the band.
The B.B. King Blues Band played two long songs, with all of the eight band members taking solos, before we heard, “Ladies and gentleman, how about a hand for the undisputed king of the blues, Mr. B.B. King!” And out he came, wearing a jacket and bowtie, looking like he couldn’t have been more pleased to be there. He then spent about 15 minutes introducing the guys, telling little stories and joking around good-naturedly. He introduced one of them as “my sister’s boy,” which was revealing, considering the guy was well-past middle age.
“Thank you for coming out to be with us this evening. We really appreciate it,” he said. “You know I’m 87. Sometimes I forget how old I am, but I’m 87.” This would not be the last time he would say this. He also told the crowd “I love you,” and “You are all so beautiful,” several times throughout the night.
“OK, I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do now,” he said after a few minutes. “And you know what that is: sit here and play the guitar.” He then rolled off a few riffs on Lucille and started singing “I Need You,” with a voice still very much his — and still beautiful. I was especially impressed that when he needed to bellow, he still could, with power and presence.
After a long call-and-response rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” in the middle of which B.B. told some stories, the music picked back up and he seemed reenergized. While singing “Rock Me” and “Key to the Highway,” he took a few short turns on lead guitar, and the crowd swooned at how he was still able to make that distinct sound; that sound that is so entwined with the man that he and it have been inseparable for decades.
After making hilarious kissing noises to the microphone and singing, “Give me one more kiss before I go,” he played the one song we all knew he would play, “The Thrill Is Gone.” By this point, he was getting tired, but he didn’t seem to want to leave the comfort of the stage, so he soldiered on, leading the band through a few more songs and telling a few more stories before bowing out graciously.
While it was a joy to see the legend in person, I couldn’t help but feel that there were probably two types of people walking out of that show: those who were glad they had seen B.B. King but were ready to go home, and people who thought it had been a truly great concert. That second group may have been of that opinion because they only go to buttoned-up concerts like this, so I can’t blame them. On top of that, I’m sure they’re good people, and it doesn’t really matter what type of concerts they enjoy. However, while I kept only veneration and fond memories of Mr. King, I was in the first group.
Top photo by Stratton Lawrence.
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