Concert Review--Etta, Al, and BB at the Fair

Review by Ken Phillips On Thursday night at the State Fair, Etta James made the wooing ritual of Larry Craig into a new dance move. After introducing it during "I wanna ta-ta you, baby" she rarely encountered a person, place or thing on the grandstand stage without trying to gauge its interest in the manner of a horny senator. Etta's voice is as powerful as ever, but she could have let it rip a little more often. It seems unreasonable to complain that a cover of "Piece of My Heart" wasn't as raw or loud as Janice's version, but when Etta James is singing it, it really ought to be. She gave us a strong "I'd Rather Go Blind" and a sweet "At Last." But she also gave us "You Can Leave Your Hat On."

Al Green really likes to hear his songs. It would be better if he liked to sing them. At the fair, he held his hand to his ear far too many times. During "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," he said "Sounds just like the record, don't it?" But I don't remember him saying that on the record. And I do remember him singing a lot more of the song. He's an infectiously happy performer, and no one could dance around and throw roses with more charm. The falsetto's still amazing, too. But why won't he stop goofing off and sing? Before he left, he recited a list of hits he wished he'd had time to sing. That hurt-- especially after watching him giggle through something that seemed to be called "Everything's Gonna Be Alright."

When B.B. King came onstage, everything was alright. The King of the Blues put more feeling into every one of his lines than the Reverend had put into any. Did you know that "You are My Sunshine" is a beautiful song? It was on Thursday night. And so was everything else that B.B. sang, and played, and perhaps most notably, said. He's 81, and he knows how tell a story. He made us laugh with one about segregation, then thanked us for making the world such a better place than it used to be. And it was all like that. Whether he was singing "Nobody loves me but my mother... and she could be jivin' too," advising the ladies that the men in "that fabulous group of U2" are handsome and rich, or joking about life as an old man ("When a shark breaks off a tooth, it grows back. At my age, when you break something, it's finished. And some things are finished even if you don't break 'em off,") he did it all with charm and love and beauty. "People talk about 'B.B.'s Last Concert,'" he told us, "Nobody told me." Then he asked us whether, if fate would allow him to come back, we would allow him, too. Our response was as heartfelt as B.B.'s singing.