Thursday, November 21, 2013
Concert review: B.B. King stumbles through Dallas show, but fans still rejoiced
His adoring crowd cut him plenty of slack at Winspear Opera House.
DALLAS We forget sometimes that legends like B.B. King are mere mortals. But his concert Wednesday night at the Winspear Opera House was a blunt reminder that even the gods of music can lose their powers.
The fact that King, at age 88, still tours and performs regularly is a reason to rejoice. There is no single greater bluesman alive, and as long as King is sitting onstage playing his beloved “Lucille,” audiences feel a direct connection to the roots of one of America’s greatest art forms.
King didn’t invent the blues. But he perfected it with his booming voice and bent-string guitar notes that feel like an ice pick stabbed straight into to your heart.
On Wednesday, however, his once-giant voice was weak and ragged, and his trademark guitar style had dissolved into a parade of sour notes. King wisely kept “Lucille” quiet for much of his 70 minutes onstage and let his longtime backing band carry the set with impeccable rhythms and stirring bass, sax and trumpet solos.
Mostly, King just talked to the crowd, although even that didn’t quite work. You couldn’t hear what he was saying half the time because he kept forgetting to bring the mike close to his mouth.
When you could hear him, he made silly jokes about love and lust and being so old he remembers the pyramids being built. He spent lots of time introducing relatives in the audience and the band and crew members whose names he could remember -- as well as a few he couldn’t.
Eventually, he did get around to playing such classics as “The Thrill is Gone,” “Rock Me Baby” and a barely-recognizable version of “When Love Comes to Town,” his 1989 duet with U2. But he spent much of the show straying from the blues into bits of Christmas songs, “You Are My Sunshine” and a tentative version of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“I can’t remember all the lines,” he admitted during “Saints,” “but I do know the melody.”
The adoring near-capacity crowd cut him plenty of slack, laughed at his jokes and cheered loudly when he said he’d like to come back to Dallas soon. A lot of the skill is gone, but for King’s loyal fans, the thrill of seeing him in the flesh one more time is good enough.
Thor Christensen is a Dallas writer and critic.