Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Legend in His Own Time...and Place -- Chicago Concert Review: Buddy Guy at Legends

Concert Review

Buddy Guy
w/ opening act Chicago Blues All-Stars
Buddy Guy's Legends, Chicago
January 19, 2014
(performances thru Jan. 26)

Excepting, at best, Michael Jordan, assorted other retired athletes and Oprah Winfrey, Buddy Guy may well be Chicago's greatest living legend.

But unlike Oprah, MJ, Mike Ditka, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Ernie Banks, Frank Thomas, Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, et al, who either long ago left the Windy City or ceased showcasing their talents here, Buddy is a living, breathing and still smoking-hot guitar-playing pillar--and icon--of the community.

He lives in the area as he has since coming here 57 years ago from his native Louisiana; he owns and often hangs out at his namesake club, likely the most famous and successful extant blues venue in Chicago; and every January, Buddy Guy furthers his own legend by doing a 16-show residency at Buddy Guy's Legends.

Sunday night was the sixth time I've gone to one of Buddy's January shows but the first time since his club moved a few doors north on Wabash. I had gone four straight years from 2002-05, but as ticket prices have risen over the years from $25 to $55, this was my first gig since a sensational one in 2010.

Buddy Guy is now 77 years old and while he seems to be in good shape--despite nursing a minor malady of some sort; he relayed how several medications were suggested to him--one never knows how many more opportunities exist to see and hear the man whose guitar soloing may well be the sweetest sound my ears will ever hear.

Thus it was well worth the time, money and effort for my friend Ken and I to get down to Legends at 6:30pm on Sunday. Although this was a good 2-1/2 half hours before Buddy would take the stage, all of the seats and much prime standing room were already taken. (A guy at an upfront table told me after the show that he arrived at 9:30am, though the doors didn't even open until Noon.)

But though it seemed that we might be relegated to watching the show via a video feed to a seating area upstairs, things actually worked out for the best.

We were able to comfortably enjoy dinner from Legends' Cajun-style menu, both choosing blackened catfish--mine smothered with crawfish étouffée; the entire meal was delicious--while being able to watch the NFC Championship Game and then the opening act while comfortably seated.

Sadly, as printed on my ticket, the opening act on Sunday, January 19 was supposed to be Eric "Guitar" Davis. Exactly a month prior, Davis was shot to death while in his car on Chicago's South Side during what is believed to be an attempted robbery.

So an assemblage of musicians called the Chicago Blues All-Stars opened the show at Legends and money was collected to benefit Davis' family. (An even larger benefit for Davis was also held Sunday night at Rosa's Lounge.) 

The music by the All-Stars sounded strong even piped into our upstairs perch. (I should also note that there was an acoustic performance beginning at 4:00pm by an artist I can't name, but we only caught the last couple minutes.)

While I wasn't optimistic about finding a place to stand let alone comfortably doing so for the duration of Buddy's set, Ken and I decided to give it a try and were able to shoehorn our way into spots at the back right of the room facing the stage.

Being vertically challenged I often had to settle for brief glimpses of Buddy through the crowd, seeing him on my camera's LCD screen as I held it above the heads in front of me or turning to watch a video screen behind us. But the experience was undoubtedly exponentially better than had we stayed upstairs to watch on closed circuit.

Being almost a foot taller than me, Ken was able to see almost everything, and only towards the end of Buddy's 2-hour set--likely the longest I've ever seen him play by at least 20 minutes--did my feet start hurting.

But with blazing guitar solos by Buddy, second guitarist Ric Hall and, for a couple numbers, Buddy's son Greg, time seemed to go by a lot faster than normal.

Buddy looked dapper as ever in a white blazer and trademark hat and seemed to be in good spirits and fine form.
Buddy Guy, right, with Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters at Chess Records studio

Coming on promptly at 9:00pm, he opened his set with the title track from his Grammy-winning 1991 album, Damn Right, I've Got the Blues

He then paid homage to his old friends and Chess Records comrades, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters, by playing "Hoochie Coochie Man," written by the former and first recorded by the latter in 1954.

Though he did pause his playing several times to speak to the audience, and late in the show demonstrated that he could mimic the playing of Keith Richards ("Satisfaction"), Eric Clapton ("Strange Brew") and Jimi Hendrix ("Voodoo Chile"), the performance was not marred--as were ones past--by lengthy harangues of underappreciation (accurate as they may have been).

Supported by his crack Damn Right Blues Band--including Hall, bassist Orlando Wright, drummer Tim Austin and Marty Simon on keys--Buddy augmented most songs with exquisite solos that not only were still blazingly fast, but sounded singularly thick and deep in a way that made one almost feel the callouses on his fingers.

There really is no other guitarist quite like him; Ken noted the sound Buddy gets from his Marshall amp and how he "bends notes like no one else."

Buddy graciously spread the solos around, letting Hall take a few impressive turns, and in bringing his son Greg out to join in on a request for "Feels Like Rain," it was apparent that some of Buddy's genius has been passed down through his genes.

Highlights were many, including the songs already mentioned plus "Got My Mojo Working," a romp through "What'd I Say," the poignant Guy original "Skin Deep" and "Meet Me in Chicago," from Buddy's latest album, Rhythm & Blues.

At once paying tribute to late legends and reiterating his place among them, Buddy also played songs by John Lee Hooker, Issac Hayes and Albert King. On the latter, his took his standard once-per-show stroll through the aisles of his club, and I can't deny the thrill of seeing such an icon so up close, and briefly reached out to touch his shoulder.

Adding to the many kernels of history and wisdom Buddy offered from the stage--including "It's not
where you're from but who you are that makes a difference," "Don't tell me you love me, show me; if you tell me, you can lie" and recalling how his earliest gigs in Chicago were "for a dime"--the uplifting experience of seeing and hearing Buddy Guy, in his own club, still at the height of his powers, was summed up nicely by Ken:

"It's great to be back in church."


Per the website for Buddy Guy's Legends, tickets seem to remain available for this Thursday and Sunday nights, on the last weekend of Buddy's 2014 residency. 

Though tickets are a bit pricey and the requisite effort rather lengthy, especially if you've never had the experience of seeing Buddy at Legends, I highly recommend you try to get there.

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