B.B. KING (Live)

At The M.E.N. Arena, Manchester, U.K., June 24, 2009

The Blues and Hard Rock are inextricably linked and the whole genre of Hard Rock is built on the foundations laid down by the Blues all those decades ago. Without the Blues there’d be no Led Zeppelin, no Free, no Aerosmith and no Lynyrd Skynyrd. In fact without the Blues there’d be no Hard Rock as we know it. The song structures, the solos and the whole feel of the music is bonded by a common heritage that remains to this day, so when Blues legend B.B. King announced a series of UK shows, it was a historic event not to be missed.

With support coming from John Mayall who, with his Bluesbreakers in the 1960s, kicked down the doors and exposed the Blues to a wider audience in the UK. In doing so he helped launch the careers of Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green, Mick Taylor, who subsequently replaced Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones and Jack Bruce of Cream fame and all would go on to become pivotal figures in the UK Blues scene and consequently influenced the birth of Hard Rock.

After being suitably warmed up by a hard driving Blues set by Mayall and his band the arena was well ready for an evening of B.B. King. After King’s last tour in 2006 he announced his retirement from touring overseas so the news of a further tour was received with delight giving many the opportunity to see the last of the great Bluesmen for one final time.

With a superb 8-piece backing band, many who have travelled the globe alongside King for decades, the show opened with two lively instrumentals which helped build the anticipation before B.B. King arrived on the stage.

At 83 years old it’s incredible that B.B. King is still able to play let alone fit in over 150 shows a year. Although looking a little frail as he was helped onto the stage and remained seated throughout the show, the years literally rolled back as “I Need You So” got proceedings started.

Over the course of the following two hours B.B. King delivered a consummate performance of pure Blues splendour. Throughout the evening he regaled the crowd with tales of life on the road, old age, diabetes, bad knees, Viagra and ladies and yet more ladies. His self-deprecating humour and all around genuine humility and gratitude at still playing music was heart-warming as the crowd listened as intently as they would listen to their favourite grandfather.

Although there was a lot of enjoyable chat throughout the night, which did help King to pace himself and who can deny him that, it was the music that dazzled the most. When B.B. King sang, his rich, deep, powerful voice filled the Arena and has matured so well over the years like a fine, vintage wine and when Lucille, his legendary guitar, sang it sent shivers down the spine. The beautiful, fluid tones and textures that radiated from the guitar and B.B. King’s trademark sparkling vibrato was simply a joy to hear. Not for him, the lightning fast arpeggios of today’s fret masters, instead this was music from the soul, pure, unadulterated passion so mesmerising that at times the beauty of his playing took your breath away.

B.B. King ran through a collection of some of his finest moments including “Key To The Highway”, the Rock/Blues shuffle of “Everyday I Have the Blues”, “Don’t Answer The Door” the biographical “Bluesman” and going back to his early days “3 O’Clock Blues.” A cool, sassy “Rock Me Baby” did just that as the crowd swayed and shimmied to the pulsating, hypnotic beat. Does music come any cooler than this?

“When Love Comes to Town” in B.B. King’s hands has more kick and fire than the version done with U2 as he lifted the tune to another level. Yet it was the haunting “The Thrill Is Gone” which encapsulates the greatness of King. Built around a simple but beautiful melody and highlighting King’s passionate, emotive vocals along with his shimmering guitar work provides the pinnacle of a very special show.

B.B. King’s recording and touring career began in the late 1940s in more simple, yet much harder times. Few musicians can have the genuine Blues credentials as B.B. King. With his roots going back to the 1920s and with an upbringing on the Mississippi Delta, B.B. King is the real deal. His life IS the Blues. His influence on music from Blues to Soul and Rock is huge and being the last living link with some of the historical Blues greats he is such an integral and vital part of our musical heritage.
As B.B. King slowly left the stage with a warm smile and a friendly wave, one can’t help feeling that this may just be the last time we see him on the shores of Europe but for those of us who saw this show witnessed a treat.

B.B. King is and always will be the King of the Blues.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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