All that B.B. King has accomplished over 60-plus years of performing continues to affect what he does today.
More than anything else, it imbues the way in which people regard the one-and-only King of the Blues.
Case in point: The Mississippi native hasn’t released an album of original material since the Grammy-winning One Kind Favor in 2008, yet his show Wednesday at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium sold all of its 1,000 tickets in under four hours. In fact, when tickets went on-sale, it caused such a crunch it eventually crashed UVic’s ticketing system.
That kind of fervour provided King’s return to Victoria with an undercurrent of excitement. By the time it was over and done with — even with King’s time on stage barely cracking the one-hour mark — few would have left the auditorium with a bad thing to say about the man.
To put a finer point on things, the concert was one long group-hug for a blues pioneer taking care of one final bit of business.
The night featured a King-less opening set by his eight-piece band, members of which took solo after colourful solo. King isn’t about to roll with anyone but the most skilled players at this stage in his career, so his tuxedo-clad crew was up to par — and then some on this night.
When the man-of-the-hour joined the band after their 15 minutes of fury, it was to a lengthy ovation — the first of three on the night.
King, 87, sported a gold-plated tuxedo jacket, looking every bit the czar of the six-string, and sat casually on a chair at the front of the stage. He settled in for a short but sweet set, one that was over and done with in a breezy 75 minutes. King talked for nearly half the duration.
He told stories, some of which weren’t worth telling. But when he sang, it was with considerable power and emotion. There is a rawness to his voice, and even though that’s a blues trademark, his gruff delivery succeeded in offsetting the night’s outward slickness and showbiz sheen.
When he finally played his trademark guitar, Lucille, during a fantastic Rock Me Baby, it was fleeting. King only played a half-dozen songs, including two throwaways, You Are My Sunshine and When the Saints Go Marching In. He played guitar on probably half of them.
But he sang wonderfully, and played guitar with precision, on his trademark tune, The Thrill is Gone.
“When you get older, you start to like your music a little slower,” King said at one point, the first of many octogenarian-themed jokes.
He wasn’t the only elder statesman in the bunch, either.
The older of his two saxophone players, Melvin Jackson, was great in a limited role, if not smooth as silk, prompting King to ask, “Who said old people can’t play?”
Old people can still play, no doubt. And when it comes to King, it’s clear the thrill of doing so never subsides.
What: B.B. King
Where: Farquhar Auditorium, University of Victoria
Rating: 3 1/2 (out of five)
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