Tuesday, April 03, 2018

In the Hometown of Joliet Jake, Damn Right Buddy Guy and Ronnie Baker Brooks Brought the Blues -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Buddy Guy
w/ opening act Ronnie Baker Brooks
Rialto Square Theatre
March 31, 2018

Although this should actually date back further, since 2002 I have now seen Buddy Guy live onstage 10 times.

Seven of these shows have come during his annual January residency at the Chicago club he owns, Buddy Guy's Legends.

This is the quintessential way, and place, to see the legendary blues guitarist and singer.

But is also something of a pain in the keister.

Not only have prices steadily risen, costing nearly $100 per person including Ticketmaster fees for a Friday or Saturday night, but as the general admission club has far fewer seats than the number of patrons who attend Buddy's gigs, you are advised to arrive around Noon if you want to reasonably assure yourself of sitting. And on Fridays & Saturdays, Buddy doesn't take the stage until 10:30pm or so.

Thursdays and Sundays tend to be a bit cheaper, earlier and slightly less of a hassle, but--though I loved seeing Buddy Guy at Legends as recently as January 2017--I wasn't that motivated to commit 10+ hours to do so again this year. (Though watching live streams aren't nearly the same, they sufficed.)

But even amid Buddy's 2018 residency, he announced a concert at Joliet's Rialto Square Theatre.

So I bought a ticket, having never been to the grand old venue that began as a movie house in 1926, just 10 years before Buddy Guy was born.

And I still devoted about 10 hours to getting to, waiting for, returning home from and seeing the show.

This isn't just because Joliet is a good hike from my home in Skokie.

As it happened--having already prompted my mom to postpone a Night 2 Passover Seder because I was oblivious to the conflict--the Loyola Ramblers wound up playing in the NCAA Final Four on Saturday.

A bit fortuitously, their game was at 5:00pm so I could watch it--in Joliet--before the concert.

A friend who lives near Joliet had mentioned a couple of options close to the theater, including a restaurant/bar called Juliet's, which is where I wound up, in part because a cop I asked near the Rialto also recommended it. 

As anyone who cares already knows, Loyola lost.

Things looked good for the first 3/4 of the game, but then things fell apart.

But enough about that.

And while I found it a bit odd that noted horrorcore act Insane Clown Posse was playing a bar between Juliet's and the Rialto in downtown Joliet the same night, it had no real consequence on me.

I had a pretty good main floor seat at the resplendent Rialto, for $52.50 plus fees, so a bit less than I would have paid at Legends even on a Thursday or Sunday, although with considerably less intimacy.

Opening the show was Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of longtime Chicago blues legend Lonnie Brooks, who passed last April 1.

Before playing a note, Ronnie dedicated the show to his dad, and went on to deliver a delightful hour, complete with audience singalongs, standing ovations and much great guitar soloing from RBB.

I had seen Ronnie a few times alongside his dad, and opening a show for B.B. King in 2008, so I knew he was terrific.

And his performance with three sidemen was so good, it almost would've justified the shlep to Joliet in itself.

I can't cite many of the song titles, but as he mentioned his new album, Times Have Changed, I know Ronnie Baker Brooks and his band played the title song and "Long Story Short" from it.

Mentioning his dad Lonnie again, he also got the crowd to sing along heartily on "Sweet Home Chicago."

A little after 9:00pm, Buddy Guy and his band took the stage with the title song from his 1991 album, Damn Right, I've Got the Blues.

In a white fedora and a black shirt with white polka dots that matched his Fender Strat, the 81-year-old Guy cut his normal dashing figure.

And when he played blazing solos, it was--as always--one of the greatest sounds I have ever heard.

Though he is, almost inarguably, the world's greatest living bluesman, Guy spent much of the near 2-hour performance paying homage to his predecessors and late contemporaries: Willie Dixon ("I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man"), Muddy Waters ("Nineteen Years Old"), John Lee Hooker ("Boom, Boom") and the man he called the greatest guitarist he ever heard, B.B. King ("Sweet Sixteen").

As is typical, he also referenced--verbally and musically, but often with just snippets--those who followed in his wake, like Eric Clapton (part of "Strange Brew" and "Sunshine of Your Love") and Jimi Hendrix (a taste of "Voodoo Child").

Given the locale, I liked how Buddy regaled the sold-out crowd with recollections of frequently playing a Joliet blues club in 1960s--perhaps called Route 66 Blues or something akin I didn't quite glean--and noting that he often had to learn the pop songs of the day, such as Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar," which got a nice run-through.

Despite the larger venue, it was the type of performance I've often seen him give at Legends, with similar songs, snippets, stories and his wondrous Cheshire cat grin.

Though likely more novel to those seeing him for the first time--and Buddy mainly plays these types of stately venues in maintaining a prolific touring schedule--it was still fun to see him play the guitar, on occasion, with his mouth, a drumstick and behind his back.

And while much of the old blues was glorious, I really enjoyed renditions of more (relatively) recent tunes such as "Feels Like Rain," "Someone Else is Steppin' In" and a sublime "Skin Deep" that followed touching memories Buddy shared about his mom instilling core human values in him.

Buddy Guy's band--including, I believe, Ric Hall on guitar, Marty Sammons on keys, Orlando Wright on bass and Tim Austin on drums--was typically stellar, with Sammons often locking in with Buddy, and Hall playing some great solos of his own.

At night's end, Buddy Guy brought Ronnie Baker Brooks onstage with him, for another pass through "Sweet Home Chicago."

All in all--despite Loyola losing--it was a pretty swell night.

Though I'm still convinced that the best way, and place, to see Buddy Guy is at the club that bears his name.

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