B.B. King and Buddy Guy leave the Orpheum awestruck

B.B. King
B.B. King
Photos by Steve Cohen

"People always ask me when I'm going to retire," Buddy Guy told the audience at Saturday night's sold-out show. "Have you ever seen a blues cat retire? We don't. We just play till we drop."

The 73-year-old Guy's statement proved poignant as the concert at the Orpheum wore on; both he and the 84-year-old B.B. King joked about their old age but otherwise played with the charisma and proficiency of young blues cats. King stayed seated throughout his set (and was ushered onto the stage after a two-song introduction by his backing band, with his band mates carefully watching to make sure he made it safely to his seat), but once in his chair he flailed his arms, did jazz hands as he sang, and grinned ear to ear as he wailed away on his famously monikered electric guitar, Lucille.

"She got drunk last night," King quipped between songs when Lucille started producing a little static, shaking his head and stroking the shiny finish of his guitar. It was one of many periods of King's set when he broke up the playing to improvise lengthy periods of stage banter, which

some might have found to be grating

but which others (myself included)

found to be disarming

. During one particularly long rant, King touched on subjects as far reaching as his love of Minnesota's smooth, paved roads; his dismay over the sport of ice fishing (complete with a description of his own version of "fishing," which involves sitting on the shore with a quart of Jack Daniels and a six-pack of Bud); and his newfound discovery of the word "disrobing." At the end of the show, he apologized to the crowd for talking so much, but honestly it was almost just as much of a joy to see him ramble as it was to hear him play.

When he got around to playing, he let his backing band do most of the heavy lifting ("If you play behind me, you've gotta be good --someone's gotta cover all my mistakes"), but he and Lucille still got in on plenty of the action. As someone who had never seen B.B. King before, I was amazed at the clarity of his guitar tone and the way it intermingled with his tender voice -- he would pinch his eyes shut while he played and then open them as wide as they would go, as if even he was awestruck by the work of his hands and vocal chords.


Buddy Guy
Buddy Guy
Photo by Steve Cohen

Opener Buddy Guy stayed on his feet for his whole set, and was a mesmerizing -- and hilarious -- performer. During a cover of Muddy Waters' "She's Nineteen Years Old" he stopped mid-line ("She's 19 years old/She's got ways just like a baby child") to protest: "Don't look at me like that, I didn't write this fucking song!"

At one point, Guy slowly edged toward the front corner of the stage, and then made his way down the left aisle of the main floor, playing his cordless electric guitar and picking up a cordless mic to perform half of a song from the audience. As the house lights came up, everyone on the main floor jumped to their feet and whipped out their cell phones and cameras to snap a photo, sending a wave of both figurative and literal electricity coursing through the crowd.

Guy ended his set with a miniature lesson in modern blues guitar, joking that most people are more familiar with the songs of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix than they are with his and King's music. To prove his point, he did spot-on imitations of each musician, roaming the stage and dramatically plucking out high notes to mimic Clapton and turning on the effects for a dazzling quote of Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile." The fact that he can blow either of those two renowned guitarists out of the water is a testament to Guy's unparalleled skill, and it made his performance all the more impressive.

All told, the pair of blues musicians kept the crowd entertained for over three hours -- and though they never played together, as some hoped they would, seeing two legendary blues musicians on one bill was more than worth the price of admission.

See all of Steve Cohen's photos of B.B. King and Buddy Guy at the Orpheum in our slideshow.

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