Judge Clark Douglas prefers to sit while writing reviews these days.
An evening with a legend.
How on earth does B.B. King keep going? It's remarkable that he's continued to tour on a regular basis well into his 80s, and it's even more remarkable that he still sounds pretty good these days. Granted, he's hardly in his prime, but B.B. King: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2011 never offers any of those common, cringe-inducing moments that cause us to observe an aging musician in pity and say, "Please, for you own sake, just stop now." The man's still got it, and he knows how to successfully incorporate his current limitations into a show.
At the start of this 80-minute set, King seems both amusingly cranky and charmingly self-deprecating. "We're gonna have some surprises later," he declares. A smattering of people clap politely. "I said, we're gonna have some surprises later!" he booms sternly. The crowd roars. King sighs. "I thought I'd tell you about the surprises now, because if I don't, some of you might get up and leave. But I'm gonna save those for later."
King then proceeds to launch into a loose, cheerful, largely improvisational show which features an atypically large amount of deceptively aimless noodling. King charmingly stumbles into and out of songs at various points, toying with a melody and talking to the audience until suddenly he finds himself belting out another song. After starting things off with the appealing one-two punch of "I Need You So" and "Key to the Highway," King offers up "See That My Grave is Clean," a song which he claims was given to him by, "a handsome fella named T. Bone Burnett." Despite expressing some displeasure at the notion of singing about a grave at his age, King tears into the tune with gusto and includes some playful funereal riffs along the way.
For a large portion of the show's running time, King relies heavily on his assortment of guest stars. After working his way through "All Over Again," he brings out guitarist Derek Trucks and singer Susan Tedeschi for a lengthy, rambling take on "Rock Me Baby." Trucks offers a handful of licks, Tedeschi croons some verses and King makes vaguely flirty remarks all the way through. "I see why you married Derek," he tells Susan. "If I played the guitar like that, maybe I could get some women, too. God, that's good." He continues to chatter over Tedeschi and Trucks running through "You Are My Sunshine" ("See what young people can do to a good song?" he offers), only playing his guitar or singing every now and then.
Then the big guns arrive: Slash, Mick Hucknall, and Ronnie Wood stroll onstage and engage in an enthralling jam session with King. Even if King can't quite remember all of their names (he introduces them as, "Ah…Slash? And Simply Red! And…ah…yeah!"), he clearly admires their talent and is thrilled to have such a talented group of folks jamming with him. Fortunately, these folks stick around for the remainder of the show, spending a whopping 40 minutes working their way through "The Thrill is Gone," "Guess Who" and a fantastic, rousing take on "When the Saints Go Marching In." The only disappointment is the crowd, which seems entirely too sedate when King and co. are tearing into some terrific numbers with gusto.
B.B. King: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2011 (Blu-ray) offers a respectable 1080i/1.78:1 transfer which offers reasonably impressive detail and depth. The bright red lighting occasionally causes some shots to look a little blown out, but otherwise I have no significant complaints. It's not quite a reference disc, but it looks as good as it really needs to. Fortunately, the disc really delivers in the audio department, presenting a rousing and immersive DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track which beautifully captures both the subtleties and roaring blasts of the concert. King's voice occasionally sounds a little distant, but that's largely due to the fact that he sometimes neglects to get close enough to his microphone when he's chatting with the audience. Supplements include brief interviews with all of the major participants: King, Hucknall, Slash, Tedeschi, Trucks and Wood.
B.B. King: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2011 isn't a portrait of the artist at the top of his game, but it's a nostalgic and appealing evening that demonstrates that King has aged quite gracefully. It isn't essential, but it's rarely less than charming.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• BB King
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