By the time I finally got to see B.B. King at the Midland this past Friday night, it was too late.
I wasn't too late because I was waiting in line for a bowl of Mongolian BBQ across the street or looking for a $10 parking spot -- it was too late, figuratively.
"Just don't be mean, okay?" my boyfriend said to me after the show as the stage lights were growing brighter and the blues legend was still on stage, signing autographs and tossing out guitar picks. Most of the sold-out audience either left already or was filing out, grumbling on the way.
It was sweet, really. Throughout his performance, King kept saying he was having fun. I suppose he was telling the truth. Shortly after coming on stage, he announced, "I can't see you, but I can hear you." The Beale Street Blues Boy is 84 now and entered (and exited) with the help of a three-man entourage.
Riley B. King played (maybe) eight songs throughout his 90+ minute set, his rich voice sometimes drowned out by the four-man horn section. Sitting in a high-backed red chair, it seemed he would play a few strong riffs, then mellow out or just stop altogether. The energy of the crowd went way down after he started. King garnered very few catcalls and whistles from the mostly white, middle-aged crowd in comparison to Buddy Guy.
Once the horn men left, the talking began. Before going into "See That My Grave is Kept Clean," the classic cover originally written by Blind Lemon Jefferson, King announced, "I'm from Mississippi and I carry a knife," a segueway into one-sided discussion about women ("I've never seen an ugly woman") and the first couple verses of "You Are My Sunshine."
And then that's when the talking really began... and people started leaving.
King kept promising to play "The Thrill is Gone," but well, it took awhile. First, the audience would have to hear about Levitra, Cialis and powers of Mogen David wine (the makers of MD 20/20, FYI). He apologized for not playing "Hummingbird," and continued on.
The rest of the horn section finally came back to bring it home. They stood around, looking rather bored, then eventually exited the stage towards the middle of the set. After delivering "The Thrill is Gone," they left again, leaving The King to say farewell to the front rows, who presumably paid $132.50 for a ticket.
On the other hand, Buddy Guy gave the crowd (part of) what they wanted: a full-on Chicago Blues explosion. Along with his amazing keyboardist, Marty Sammon, Guy delivered the classics: "Slippin' Out, Slippin' In," a Muddy Waters medley of "Hoochie Coochie Man/She's 19 Years Old/Love Her with a Feeling and a particularly rousing performance of "Drowning on Dry Land." It was pretty fucking awesome.
B.B. King, however, was more gentle to his guitar. It's hard to say whether he'll be back in Kansas City. His age and condition have taken their toll on the man who still has at least 30 dates left to play (including five in South America) in 2010. I suppose I could sum up the experience with a quote from Guy, who in regards to his own performance, announced "I didn't like a damn thing, but he gave me the best he had."