By Devon Wendell
What was designated as “Blues Night” at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night turned out to be what must have been one of the strangest evenings the Bowl has seen in a long time, due to a rather sloppy, chaotic set from B.B. King.
But let’s first talk about the Tedeschi Trucks band, who opened the show with a stellar set of their unique blend of Southern-fried country blues rock.
Susan Tedeschi’s Bonnie Raitt-style singing and Derek Trucks screaming lead slide guitar playing (reminiscent of the late Duane Allman) were complimented by well punctuated horn hooks (from Kebbi Williams: sax, Maurice Brown: trumpet, and Saunders Sermons on trombone) on material from their 2011 debut album Revelator (Sony Masterworks). Selections included “Don’t Let Me Slide” (which opened the show), “Midnight In Harlem”, and “Love Has Something Else To Say.”
The vocal harmonies between Tedeschi, Mike Mattison, and Mark Rivers, gave the band a more gospel feel, creating a much larger and more powerful sound.
The most powerful moments of the set were the covers. Tedeschi and Trucks swapped solos on their interpretation of the Elmore James version of the Muddy Waters classic “Rollin’ And Tumblin.” Tedeshi’s melodic Chicago blues style leads were the perfect counterpoint to Truck’s thunderous, wailing slide work. Another fascinating cover was the group’s tribute to the late Levon Helm (who passed away on April 19th, 2012) on The Band’s classic “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” with David Ryan Harris guesting on vocals and guitar. The Tedeschi Trucks Band’s relaxed Southern style made this an ideal number to cover. Harris shared the lead vocal spot with Tedeschi.
On a swampy, New Orleans funk rendition of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “That Did It”, Tedeschi’s voice had a raspiness to it that brought to mind Janis Joplin’s whiskey soaked vocals.
The band closed with their own “Bound For Glory” which at times sounded a little too much like a lot of their other originals but was saved by a dynamic and masterful Hammond B3 organ solo by Kofi Burbridge.
After a rather long intermission, The B.B. King Blues Band took the stage, playing a few intro instrumental Memphis blues shuffles. This was set up to show off the skills of each band member, especially the horn section (Melvin Jackson: sax, Walter King: sax, and Stanley Abernathy: trumpet). Eventually, Melvin Jackson introduced B.B. King.
Sitting down at his chair, King played some of his signature string bends and vibrato along with a fast gospel instrumental laid down by the band. After that, things went downhill very quickly.
King rushed through some of his most well known material — “I Need You So,” Everyday I Have The Blues” (in which he didn’t slow down enough to sing the song’s chorus), his version of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s stark plea of death “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” as well as “When Love Comes To Town,” and “The Thrill Is Gone.” Not only did King rush these numbers, he also seemed to be struggling with playing his guitar. In all fairness, King will turn 87 years young on September16th, but one moment he seemed to be fighting to get what used to come naturally and then suddenly it was if he became disconnected from the music. It seemed as though King was very tired or out of it, which weighed down his performance the longer it went on.
King then invited Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks back on stage to join him and everything began to fall apart. First, Tedeschi was seated next to King but not given a guitar as Trucks stood over them with his axe ready to go.
King was slurring his words by this point and talking way too much. Eventually, Trucks sat on the other side of King who announced special guest John Mayer. Mayer took a seat next to Trucks. Mayer had also not been given a guitar. King started to tease Mayer about “being tired from kissing all morning” and even made a few jokes about Mayer’s recent throat cancer surgery, but no one seemed offended. Then King and his band went right into the melancholy “Guess Who.”
After what seemed like an eternity, both Tedeschi and Mayer were finally handed their guitars from a stage hand but neither one of them got to play more than 12 bars each, as King rambled on nonsensically. Trucks interrupted with a few loud solos as what appeared to be a means of distracting the audience from all the chaos.
Tedeschi played a few bars very sloppily, as if nervous from this strange spectacle. The more King talked, the more out of it he sounded. Mayer finally got in a brief but amazing solo, playing some of King’s trademark licks lovingly along with the chord changes. The band remained steady and tight throughout all of this.
After thanking the audience several times, King announced that their time was up and that was it. Everyone but King quickly exited the stage. King sat there in his chair waving at the crowd with a big grin.
On this evening of blues, the Tedeschi Trucks Band played a set that was focused, soulful, and energetic. Both Susan Tedeschi and her husband Derek Trucks got to show off their virtuosity to the Bowl audience. But, whether it was due to poor health, age, or other reasons, B.B. King’s set was off. And, instead of curing the Bowl crowd of the blues as he’s done countless times before, he gave us far less than we’d hoped for, especially the musicians – like myself — who’ve loved and learned so much from King all our lives.
Hopefully this was just an off night for The King Of The Blues
To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.