Fresh off two Grammy wins for two different albums on two different labels, B.B. King delivered yet another rousing crowd-pleaser of a performance that contradicts the visual evidence of him needing to stay seated for the entire 95-minute show. The man hasn’t lost a step.
Touring without the type of festival lineup that compresses his work into an hourlong set, King took the opportunity to stretch out sans his four-member horn section and display the single most identifiable sound of the blues, the alternatingly stinging and tremolo-heavy B.B. King guitar solo. King and his generally sturdy band, driven by excellent keyboard work from James Toney, turned in a blistering rendition of the instrumental “Days of Old,” which appears on recent Reprise collaboration with Eric Clapton, “Riding With the King.” (Disc won the traditional blues Grammy).
Thursday’s concert, like the “Riding” disc, tapped deep into the King songbook, reaching back to his first R&B chart-topper, “3 O’clock Blues” from 1951, and “Key to the Highway,” the 1940s Bill Broonzy tune that Clapton covered with Derek and the Dominoes and the two guitarists recorded for “Riding.”
Now 75, King takes a centerstage chair and reaches for the microphone stand to bellow well-worn classics such as “The Thrill Is Gone” and “How Blue Can You Get,” his voice still fervent and remarkably tuneful. He’s never been one of the gloom-meisters of the blues and now he seems almost universally satisfied, even blissful, when he steps into numbers such as “Making Love Is Good for You” and “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman.”
His well-experienced band can oddly spiral out of control at moments. They raced through two Louis Jordan numbers that King has made his own over the decades — “Let the Good Times Roll” and “Caldonia,” both of which appear on a Jordan tribute album that included the song that picked up the pop collaboration Grammy. “Key to the Highway” was underwhelming in this sea of uptempo rockers, which, in the long run, was testament to King’s continued vitality and untarnished skills, not to mention his reign as the world’s most entertaining blues musician.