Words by: Martin Halo | Images by: Rod Snyder
B.B. King & Buddy Guy :: 02.21.09 :: Beacon Theatre :: New York, NY
The Beacon Theatre, the old New York relic of myth, had its doors closed for renovations for the better part of last year. Live Nation marked its reopening with a bang after a 15 million dollar face lift. The calendar included Levon Helm, fifteen nights of the Allman Brothers Band for their 40th Anniversary and an evening with blues legends B.B. King and Buddy Guy. Not too shabby, New York.
The Beacon, a converted movie house dating back to the roaring 1920s designed as the sister to Radio City Music Hall, is decked out with elegant golden Roman statues on either side of the stage. Gold plated lions and carved facial arrangements extend all the way to the rafters. Encasing the top of the stage is a see-through oriental scaffold with a setback glow of red. The three-tiered venue only spans 40-seated rows to the lobby, and to put into words the feeling of walking inside this inner sanctum is impossible. The goose bumps scurrying across one's skin say enough.
On this particular evening, the experience was that much more unique as a rare trip to New York City placed Buddy Guy and B.B. King together on the same stage! Guy emerged first into the spotlight just after 8 o'clock with his black "BG" guitar strap glistening in the spotlight. The lights dimmed and dust danced in the spotlight protruding from the heavens.
"I'm gonna make you sweat," Guy moaned into the microphone. The crowd couldn't help but to applaud. Booming licks bounced off the Beacon's walls and the energy exerted was that of a lighting bolt. There was something about Guy's set that inspired jaw-dropping voyeurism. It is unlike New York to be mesmerized, but I swear to you they stared at the 70-year-old bluesman like it was a talent they were laying their eyes on for the first time.
The dynamics of Guy's set were particularly impressive. The transition to a whisper brought the Beacon to pin drop quiet. It was so blatantly obvious that legends were in the house, and the level of respect pouring from the audience oozed over the environment.
|Buddy Guy :: 02.21 :: NYC|
The four-note intro to "Hoochie Coochie Man" came off the piano slow and heavy. Guy's band was off the charts - so fucking tight - all hanging back riding the groove.
"Gypsy woman told my mama," he sang slow and drawn out, "since I was born..."
A voice screamed out from the crowd. Guy paused. "Now, I ain't gonna let ya fuck it up," he said before starting again. "Gypsy woman told my mama, since I was born," he sang again, and this time the band exploded like the barrel end of a gun.
"Skin Deep," the title track off Buddy Guy's recent LP, followed before the Louisiana born mojo man disappeared behind the curtain, only to reemerge, guitar in hand, in the audience. New York was eating out of the palm of his hand.
The only thing that kind of hurt Guy's set was the addition of nine-year-old guitar prodigy Quinn Sullivan. For a child his chops were quite impressive, but his slight overstepping of the spotlight actually broke the hypnotic momentum of the set. Sullivan wasn't a detraction, but for me what was transpiring before his guest spot was absolute genius. If it continued for the remaining ten minutes it would have been arguably the finest 60 minutes of music I have seen since the MSG Cream shows of 2005.
With his world famous B.B. King Blues Band decked out in sparkling tuxedos and laying down a groove that signified it was time to dash from the bar back to your seat, B.B. King walked out to a thunderous applause. "I'm 83-years-old," he said with his black Gibson slung over his shoulder. "People ask me when I'm going to stop playing shows." Groans emanated from crowed and King answered, "You better believe to the day I die!"
King performed "Key to the Highway," "When Loves Comes to Town" and "The Thrill Is Gone." Though his playing was a treat when he placed pick to strings, the majority of the set consisted of Mississippi fables.
B.B. King :: 02.21 :: NYC|
"They say people from Mississippi like to talk a lot," said King, "Well, I'm no exception." He touched on his disgust for how rappers speak about women, stating "I have never said a bad thing about a woman in my life. They kiss me on the cheek now and say, 'B. you are so cute!' Man, where were you 50 years ago?"
His eyes glared out over the audience in a manner of hopelessness before a big chuckling laugh echoed from his massive frame. "And what about that Michael Phelps," King mused. "If that boy wants to smoke, he should just be allowed to smoke." The audience erupted.
Remaining seated, King forged ahead through renditions of "You Are My Sunshine" and "Rock My Plimsoul." King also expressed discontent about being snubbed during a Bo Diddley tribute at the Grammy's in February, before "Everyday I Have the Blues" and "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" made appearances, followed by Buddy Guy and Quinn Sullivan joining him onstage.
With Sullivan showing off his chops King commented, "I don't know where you got it from but boy you can play" as they jammed on "Who's Gonna' Fill These Shoes." Again, Sullivan's presence took away from a potential moment with Guy and King forced to the background.
To end the show B.B. King took a piece of paper of out his pocket and showed it to the crowd. It read, "11:00 PM."
"I would stay with you, New York, all night," King said, "but this piece of paper says my time is done."
Continue reading for more pics of B.B. King and Buddy Guy at the Beacon...