Buddy Guy at State Theatre, 3/02/12

By Rick Mason

Buddy Guy
State Theatre, Minneapolis
Friday, March 2, 2012

A week after taking part in a stellar blues summit at the White House and personally persuading President Obama to chime in on "Sweet Home Chicago," Buddy Guy reveled in his own role as blues statesman Friday night at Minneapolis' State Theatre, offering judicious context and perspective on the nature of the blues, but also blowing away the packed house with his showmanship and spectacular guitar work.

The Louisiana-born Guy, who has been a Chicago icon for over half a century, failed to bring along the stars with whom he shared the East Room stage, including B.B. King, Mick Jagger, Booker T. Jones, Jeff Beck and Trombone Shorty. But through stories and sometimes mere snippets of songs he invoked the spirits of a dozen others whose legacy he shares. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and his late partner Junior Wells all made appearances -- channeled through Guy. It was an education in the blues. The students in the audience hung on the old professor's every word and lustily cheered his dazzling array of searing guitar licks.

That "old" adjective, by the way, proved accurate only in numeric terms. Throughout the 105-minute performance, Guy moved and played with the bristling energy of someone a third as old as his actual 75 years. He emerged with a flourish, shredding his fret board and bending notes with wicked intensity while vocally bemoaning his fate on "Nobody Understands Me But My Guitar," while his intrepid quartet, the Damn Right Blues Band, stomped out a resounding blues foundation behind him.

Guy then announced, "I'm gonna play somethin' so funky you can smell it," and launched into Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man." He initially quietly coaxed notes from his guitar, even turning it around and scratching out a subtle rhythm by rubbing the strings on his flowery shirt. When the audience responded half-heartedly to his request to join in on the chorus, Guy stopped the band. "Wait one fuckin' minute," he said. "I played the same song in India two week ago and guess what? They didn't fuck it up like you just did."

Suitably admonished, the crowd responded with renewed gusto, and the band tore back into the piece. Guy, of course, hasn't been anywhere near India lately, but it was one of many teasing lines he delivered with impeccable comic timing--Seinfeld as virtuoso blues guitarist. Another came shortly thereafter, midway into Waters' lascivious, cradle-robbing ode "She's Nineteen Years Old." "I didn't write this fuckin' song," Guy deadpanned with mock indignation, before breaking into a wide grin while the band exploded into the tune.

Still later, while swaggering through Albert King's "Drowning on Dry Land," Guy roamed into the crowd, down the theatre's main aisle and even up into the balcony while still raging on guitar and letting his soulful voice creep up into a sweet falsetto.

Such antics could be dismissed as pure shtick in lesser artists, but Guy has a magician's touch in maintaining the illusion of spontaneity, plus the musical chops to back all of it up. In fact, Guy is a fabulously talented guitarist who helped forge the modern blues style after his arrival in Chicago in the 1950s. The stinging power of his solos influenced generations of guitarists, including such heavyweights as Hendrix, who he acknowledged with a blazing psychedelic maelstrom at the end of Denise LaSalle's "Slippin' Out, Slippin' In," and Eric Clapton, who got a nod with a brief, acoustic run through Cream's "Strange Brew."

A bit of Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" also turned up at the end of the show when Guy called back out Quinn Sullivan, a soon-to-be 13-year-old blues guitar prodigy who played a remarkably assured opening set backed by the Damned Right crew. The kid matched Guy lick for lick as they briefly rummaged through Hendrix, Albert King and the Rolling Stones' "Miss You." Guy smiled and shook his head in amazement. "When I was 13 years old," he cracked, "I couldn't even play a fuckin' radio."

Whatever elixir Guy's been dialing up, it's keeping the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer lithe, limber and on the prowl. His latest album, Living Proof, earned him his sixth Grammy and a new signature tune, the biographical "74 Years Young," that it looks like he'll have to update for decades to come. When Guy dove into the lacerating guitar solo at the center of "74," he seemed to be peeling away decades, finally declaring, "Tonight I feel like I'm 21." So did everyone joining in on air guitar.

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