Judge Gordon Sullivan is King of the Views, as he modestly tells us.
"B.B. King is still the 'King of the Blues'"
B.B. King is King of the Blues for a couple of reasons. The first is his phenomenal talent as a guitarist. His vibrato technique is the stuff of legend, and his music has always mixed tasteful lyricism and joyful energy. But, there are a lot of very talented guitarists in the world and only one King. The other thing that cements B.B.'s status is his relentless touring schedule. After a string of albums during the '60s blues revival (including the essential Live at the Regal), B.B. recorded less and toured more, averaging three hundred nights a year for decades (throughout, I might add, his fifties, sixties, and seventies; now in his eighties he's finally slowing down). With all his passion, and that much practice, B.B. took his tremendous talent and honed it to a sharp edge that he's maintained for longer than most bands can stay together. With a crack team of musicians in tow, B.B. has toured the world, earning the right to his crown. In that time he's appeared at the famous Montreux Jazz Festival almost twenty times. Now we have B.B. King: Live at Montreux 1993, a DVD of a show from 1993, and it's everything B.B. fans could hope for.
In almost 100 minutes, B.B. and his band run through seventeen tracks, including newer songs and old favorites:
This is pretty much a textbook B.B. King show. Fresh off his Blues Summit, which saw him team up with other blues greats like John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy, B.B. King and his band are in fine form. The show opens with the backing band (including guitar, bass, drums, horns, and a piano) warming the crowd up before the man himself takes the stage. They then proceed to run through a number of high-energy tunes (including a fantastic reading of "Let the Good Times Roll"). B.B. stalks the stage, playing his guitar Lucille for all he's worth, making his usual expressive faces. Towards the end of the set the band brings it down a little (and B.B. brings out a chair to sit in), and the set ends with the beautiful lament of "The Thrill is Gone."
Normally I don't notice how concerts are filmed (unless either the band or the camerawork is really bad), but I was struck by how well this show was filmed. Although B.B. is the star player, he works with a tight ensemble, and the look reflects that. There are numerous shots of the whole band rocking out, as well as close-ups on individual players when they take solo turns. Then, there's the handling of B.B. himself. One of the things he's known for is the expressive faces he makes while playing, and we see plenty of that. Also, knowing how many guitar fanatics (myself included) idolize B.B.'s technique, there are also numerous loving shots of his hands as he plays. It's like a master class in electric blues and makes for compelling viewing.
There's also nothing to complain about with either the audio or video of this disc. The transfer is bright and clear, with no obvious compression or source difficulties, and the DTS and Dolby Digital surround options are clear with good separation. I found B.B.'s guitar tone especially wonderful to listen too. Purists might complain about the lack of a PCM track, but that's a small problem considering the quality of the other tracks. The only other complaint about the presentation might be the lack of extras—even some posters from the time would be appreciated, but all we get is a well-written set of liner notes.
If I have one complaint about this disc, it's that everything might be too perfect. The band is tight and B.B. does his thing well, but there's something missing that could have taken this night from "special" to "magical." I'm not sure what it is, but maybe a fresh guitarist (especially one from his Blues Summit album) or a slightly different set of arrangements. Really though, I'm just quibbling: what's here is great and nothing to complain about.
Longtime fans of the King of the Blues will be happy to add this DVD to their collection, and this set is also a compelling choice for an introduction to B.B. King's magnificent version of the blues. We can only hope that some of the other B.B. King appearances at Montreux get this same treatment.
The thrill may be gone, but B.B. King: Live at Montreux is not guilty.
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