Music Rags: A legacy on stage

On “If I Had It All,” Dave Matthews’s trembling voice sings “If I were giant-sized, on top of it all/Tell me what in the world would I sing for, if I had it all?” On Wednesday, March 6, University Centre Farquhar Auditorium B.B. King delivered a resounding answer to that very question . . . I would keep singing to bask in the glow of all the people who love me.

By this point in his life, having done more than any one man to bring the blues to a mass audience, the great Riley B. King has nothing left to prove. At 87 years of age he has, understandably, slowed considerably since his fiery youth (in 1956 he reportedly played 342 shows). He still plays upwards of 100 shows every year, but now, in front of audiences that already love the man and his music, King is deservedly content to let his legend speak for itself while he basks in the reflective love of his fans.

Now King’s is a polite performance, held up as much by his winning, jovial attitude and his love of music than by the music he plays. His band does the heavy lifting while King is more than happy to sit in front in the spotlight and talk to the audience as if he’s reminiscing with old friends.

King picked up his beloved guitar Lucille as he sat centre stage and cradled it the entire show, though he actually played her for seemingly little time in his 90-minute set. It’s a shame because when he did allow his hands to run up and down her neck, picking perfect note after note, it was something to behold. There’s a reason King has stuck with the same guitar for so long. Her tone is beyond perfect. It’s an extension of King’s own voice.

And friends, let me tell you, that voice still booms when King lets it loose. Whatever he may have lost in physical power over the years hasn’t been lost in his throat. His voice is as low and forceful as ever, commanding feeling as emotion emanates from the King.

The look of joy on King’s face as the crowd sang along to the elementary school standard “You Are My Sunshine” was as touching as the song itself. The song was just another light-hearted highlight of a set that avoided nearly all the pain normally associated with the blues.

The biggest crowd reaction of the night came as King and his band ripped into his biggest track “The Thrill is Gone.” With King’s voice pounding through the auditorium and Lucille crying alongside , the song was a stark reminder of the pain that inspires some of blues music’s great performances.

But this night was not about pain. It was a night for a titan of music history to converse with an adoring group of fans and give them something personal to take home. He may not have played his guitar as much as people would have liked and he talked twice as much as he sang (and the last 10 minutes consisted of his band playing while King gave out bracelets to female audience members), but by now B.B. King doesn’t need to do much to leave a lasting impression.

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