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B.B. King, Jeff Beck, Galactic, Mofro

Again, B.B. King turned up in the Southland under the aegis of a B.B. King Music Festival -- this time at the Greek Theater on Saturday night. The bill made some history, as fans of both blues legend King and rock legend Jeff Beck experienced the rare treat of hearing them square off together at the end of King's set.

Again, B.B. King turned up in the Southland under the aegis of a B.B. King Music Festival –this time at the Greek Theater on Saturday night (last summer, it was at the Hollywood Bowl). Again, the bill was loaded with acts that were undoubtedly inspired in some way by King and have headed off in different directions. But this time, the bill made some history, as fans of both blues legend King and rock legend Jeff Beck experienced the rare treat of hearing them square off together at the end of King’s set.

“I’m in the presence of the King,” Beck said quietly, taking a deferential stance well to the side of the blues master, who was seated center stage.

But one wondered how two such seemingly incompatible guitar styles — King’s laconic elegance and Beck’s frontal assaults — could interface.

At first, Beck seemed content to scratch away as King sang “I know” over and over, with only the briefest of guitar exchanges at the end. But in the next tune, Beck ingeniously decorated B.B.’s vocal line as perhaps no one has done before, with his darting staccatos and fuzz-tone mastery, and this time, the exchange of licks was electrifying — Beck’s lightning set off by King’s liquid mercury. Indeed, this summit meeting might have been the only way that even a savvy showman like King could have topped Beck’s sizzling earlier set.

Beck, whose unbroken association with the Epic label now spans five decades (going back to his days with the Yardbirds in the 1960s), reached back to his jazz-rock heroics of the mid-1970s, with longtime cohorts Tony Hymas manning the bass line on keyboards and Terry Bozzio thundering nonstop on a humungous drum kit. In a set sprinkled with tunes from Beck’s two landmark albums of that time, “Blow by Blow” and “Wired,” his guitar flashed, darted about, flailed at the power chords, grooved and rocked in a jagged pocket and, on a couple of tunes, even displayed a lyrical poise akin to that of Carlos Santana.

In his own mostly standard set, King, who turns 78 next month, seemed a bit less inclined to clown and more intent upon delivering the impassioned blues goods. His guitar still stings and sings with economy, and his voice can still pull off the tricky syncopations in the fast-rockin’ treatment of “Early in the Morning.”

With the superstar firepower yet to come, the Florida-based band Mofro could muster some swampy, rootsy grooves with good slide guitar work, while New Orleans’ Galactic probably stayed on a bit too long with its sporadically cooking funk.

B.B. King, Jeff Beck, Galactic, Mofro

Greek Theater, 6,162 seats

  • Production: Presented by the Greek Theater and Dodge. Reviewed August 2, 2003.
  • Cast: <b>Bands:</b> B.B. King (James Bolden, James Toney, Melvin Jackson, Stanley Abernathy, Walter King, Calep Emphrey Jr., Charles Dennis, Reginald Richards), Jeff Beck (Tony Hymas, Terry Bozzio), Galactic (Theryl DeClouet, Benjamin Ellman, Robert Mercurio, Stanton Moore, Richard Vogel, Jeffrey Raines), Mofro (J.J. Grey, Daryl Hance, Mike Shapiro, Craig Barnett, Fabrice Quentin).