Gig - B.B. King / Keb Mo: Live At The Royal Albert Hall
Another old review - but the chances are I'm never going to see the great man playing live again, so it stays on the site as testament to one of the true greats of the blues and a truly excellent live performer.
It was very very hot!! The Royal Albert Hall on an untypically balmy English summer evening is not where I recommend anyone spends their time by choice. Having got there to the gig about 20 minutes before kick off, I hit the bar, along with just about everybody else! It's the first time I've ever seen the majority of people walking away from a bar with bottles of water rather than the usual range of alcoholic beverages - it was that hot!
Still, we were hear to witness a very special event. I last saw B.B King at the Hall around five years ago and, as then, we walked into the concert wondering if this might be the last time we see the great man in live performance. I guess we were feeling a little more maudlin than usual because of the recent death of John Lee and you realise what you've always known; there aren't many of the genuine masters of the blues left. (And I've still yet to see Bobby Bland, missed him last year, something I might forever live to regret).
Just about dead on 7.30pm Keb Mo strolled on stage to play what turned out to be a wonderful acoustic set. Much of the set seemed to hark back to the country blues that he first played earlier in his solo career. A nice relaxed style throughout; I know if I'd been up there performing acoustic I'd have been less than enthralled with the constant audience interruptions throughout the set - hey guys, turning up a little late's one thing but if you don't want to see the support, that's fine, but don't blunder in 20-30 minutes into the set 'cos your beer's finished. Keb managed to highlight the tardiness with grace and good humour but still made his point.
The acoustic set took in songs from the man's entire repertoire and it was particularly interesting to hear many of the songs from, say, "Slow Down" and "Just Like You' stripped back from the production values of the CD recordings. The title track from "Just Like You" sounded particularly fine. Good to hear Keb's stellar acoustic guitar work given rightful prominence throughout the set. Looking forward to the imminent release of the "Big Wide Grin" album. Excellent stuff - but boy were we sweating!! (Sorry, I was perspiring, my wife was of course glowing )
B.B. King's performance was, as usual heralded by 15 - 20 minutes from his band. King's clearly paces the show now and so he should at the ripe old age of 75. And it's a stellar band, worth a few minutes of their own as they run through a jump blues or two to get the ball rolling. Particularly recommended are the keyboards of the great James Toney (just how many albums do we have in our collections that this man can be found on..) and the visual focus of the band James Bolden who likes to shake his stuff, add some humour and play a very mean trumpet indeed.
B.B was greeted both like a long lost friend and as a minor royal - you can get cynical about the showbiz, the blues for the middle classes, but there was real warmth in the hall, both from the audience and from the man himself. He obviously loves the adoration, but there's always a degree of humility in the way he approaches the whole star thing. He sits down to play, as he did five years ago and he knows how to pace himself, letting the band do a lot of the work while he takes the odd breather. But he can still play, the fingers are as nimble as ever and it always seems to me that he has often been seriously underrated as a vocalist. We got the trademark openers and staples of any B.B show, including 'Let The Good Times Roll' and the wonderful 'Caldonia' but he also threw in a few of the newer recordings from the likes of the "Riding With The King" CD (which led many in the audience into expecting a surprise guest in the shape of Eric Clapton joining B.B on-stage); needless to say, they were disappointed. There weren't too many surprises and 'The Thrill Is Gone' got the crowd up and dancing but it was a little perfunctory and one of the less satisfying numbers of the night. But overall I thought the show was significantly better than the Albert Hall gig all those years ago, more playing, less talking and a really good choice of swinging, uplifting material.
A great night, and sadly one that just might never be repeated - thought that Keb might have joined B.B for a duet or two, but it didn't happen, although he was there to welcome the great man off stage. And I know that the Albert Hall is a venerable venue and it truly is a wonderful environment, but please, find a way to cool it down a bit!!