Word by Adam Kaye
Bo Diddley :: 10.07.06 :: Paramount Theatre :: Austin, TX
Last Saturday night, blues legend Bo Diddley passed through Austin, Texas, sitting center stage for about an hour, sharing himself with an adoring crowd at the majestic Paramount Theatre. And what a theatre this is. For a few hours it was the setting of Mr. Diddley's show, but for 91 years before that, and for many more years to come, The Paramount Theatre has occupied the same location on Congress Street in the heart of downtown Austin. The Paramount is as beautiful as they come, with immaculate detail in every nook and cranny. Like The Warfield or The Hammerstein Ballroom, The Paramount is one of those spaces where everything sounds better.
Traveling with Bo this time around are two fantastic individuals – Austin's own Ruthie Foster and Alvin Youngblood Hart. Ruthie began the show by calmly walking to the front of the stage, alone with her guitar, and easing everybody into the night with a short but stellar set highlighting her diverse talents. The music ranged from reggae to traditional blues to singer/songwriter folk, but the crowning jewel was easily the song she performed a cappella, standing away from the microphone but just close enough to get her voice to the "cheap" seats. For the sake of the rest of the world, I hope she continues to get such high profile gigs.
As Ruthie exited stage left, Alvin Youngblood Hart was walking toward the front of the stage and a full band was moving toward their instruments, which had sat untouched behind Ruthie while she performed. With long dreads and a black leather vest, Mr. Hart strapped on an electric guitar and started rocking his blues. With a growling guitar sound reminiscent of ZZ Top, Hart jammed for about 30 minutes, taking the audience with him on multiple musical trips. He didn't have the instant acceptance that came with Ruthie's hometown status, but his lyrics were intelligent and the band behind him was rippin'. The same stellar band performed behind Bo later in the evening, but it was during Alvin's set that they were really given the opportunity to let it all hang out.
Bo Diddley by Norm Harris
After his set concluded, there was a break of about 25 minutes or so before the lights in the lobby began to flicker, signaling the beginning of Bo Diddley's set. After a glowing introduction, Bo carefully ambled to the chair that had been set up for him at center stage, wearing white tennis shoes with Velcro straps, his signature black fedora, and a shiny silver shirt like you might expect at a high school rave or a late night show at the High Sierra Music Hall, obviously far more concerned with sharing the blues than with making Mr. Blackwell's Best Dressed List. He spent his first few minutes getting comfortable and attempting to fix a technical issue with his classic rectangular electric guitar, but he eventually settled in and began playing that guitar, which produced a ringing metallic tone that was unmistakably Diddley. Even if you had never heard him play before, it should have been obvious that nobody creates this tone but Bo.
Almost the entire set was classic blues tunes, including "I'm A Man," "Who Do You Love," and the closer, "Hey Bo Diddley," during which he had the entire audience standing, clapping, and singing "Heyyy, Bo Diddley!" There were a couple new tunes as well, including a painfully direct "Wake Up America" rap that plainly pointed out a handful of the things that we seem to have backwards in our country these days.
At 77 years old and with over 50 years of performing under his belt, Bo Diddley knows exactly what he's doing on stage. These days, you can't listen to an hour of radio without hearing a song that was influenced by the music of Bo Diddley. And while his guitar playing isn't quite as good as it once was, it still feels damn good to stand in a beautiful theatre, clapping and stomping, singing "Heyyy, Bo Diddley!" and watching him reap the benefits of a lifetime devoted to the blues.
JamBase | Austin
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