Friday, January 29, 2010

Truly Legendary

Concert Review

Buddy Guy
Opening: Moreland & Arbuckle
Buddy Guy's Legends, Chicago
January 28, 2010

I have long appreciated the greatness and legacy of Buddy Guy--the greatest living bluesman and a guitar genius whose influence on Hendrix, Clapton, Page, Beck and others clearly helped shape rock & roll. Every January, he does a residency at his Chicago club, Buddy Guy's Legends, and I've attended 4 of those shows plus a Ravinia gig, but until last night I had not seen him live since 2006.

For while his mind-blowing guitar work alone has always been worth the price of admission, his past shows have been a mixed bag. Typically, they have opened strong, but about halfway into a normal 90 minute set, he would usually start fiddling around with songs by (or made famous by) one of his disciples and then go into a long-winded dissertation about how he has largely been overshadowed. In my mind, his habitual whining diminished his otherwise amazing act.

But having seen other blues players over the years and being reminded just how exceptional a musician Buddy is--with his appearances in The Rolling Stones' Shine A Light movie and on the recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert only bolstering that opinion--I thought I should try to get to another of his Legends' shows, especially as it seems every year the club is said to be on the verge of closing (according to Buddy, this year it actually is, but only to move to a larger venue down the street).

Boy am I glad that I went. First of all, I was lucky to get a ticket for last night's show just a few weeks ago, after most of his 16 shows were already sold out. And fortunately, given that I was in the club for 5 hours, I was able to get a seat, at a table with a seemingly platonic couple, who seemed nice but didn't really talk to me. To get the evening of music started, as is the norm, someone (whose name I didn't catch) was playing some acoustic blues. And I ordered a Blackened Catfish Po'Boy off the Bayou-flavored menu (Buddy is from Louisiana). It was pretty good, but not in itself worth the visit.

At 9:00 came the opening act, which varies every night of the residency. It was a trio of white guys from that blues hotbed, Wichita, Kansas, called Moreland & Arbuckle. I had never heard of them before, but I was very impressed. They played a great blend of originals and blues covers (and a Tom Waits song), all of which sounded really good and went over well with the crowd. They have a new album out at the end of February and I plan to check it out.

Then, at about 10:30, came Buddy with his backing band. From the first note, the ever-stylish Guy was wailing, and for over 100 minutes, he didn't really let up. His guitar-playing sounded as great as ever. In fact, as someone who has seen Clapton, Page, Beck, Van Halen, Anastasio and myriad other guitar heroes, I don't recall ever having been as impressed by anyone's playing over the course of a full show.

And although he made a few genial comments to the audience, and late in the show did dabble in emulating Clapton (Strange Brew, Sunshine of Your Love) and Hendrix (Voodoo Chile, which brought goose bumps), he never filibustered. He just played, including as is his custom, on a trek around his club, during which I caught this close-up.

In fact, the only respite he took from singing and really letting the fretboard rip, turned out to be a real highlight. Buddy relayed how a few years ago he was playing a gig in Massachusetts when a guy asked if his 8-year-old son could play with him. Buddy humored the guy, but then was blown away by the kid, a blues prodigy named Quinn Sullivan (beyond my clip below, you can find many more on YouTube).

Quinn is now the ripe old age of 10 (nearly 11) and was in town to open Saturday night's show (the last of the residency), so Buddy brought him up to play a bit last night. Beyond the wistful realization that I will never in my life be able to do anything as good as this kid plays the guitar, I and the rest of the crowd were truly amazed. Quinn sang two songs and then jammed with Buddy on a third, which is when I clandestinely captured this video:

After the show, I bought Buddy's latest album, Skin Deep, which Buddy signed along with a free souvenir laminated pass. The album sounds really good, and Buddy revealed that he (and Quinn) will be playing at Clapton's as-yet-unannounced Crossroads Guitar Festival on June 26 at Toyota Park. I think I might have to go to that, but even if not, last night was a show I won't soon forget. Thanks Buddy; you're a true legend.

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