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Concert review: B.B. King at Pier Six Pavilion

Sun reporter Chris Kaltenbach saw B.B. King perform at Pier Six Pavilion last night. Here are his thoughts:

It's not every day you get to watch the Statue of Liberty walk onstage, but that's what it felt like watching blues legend B.B. King enter Pier 6 Pavilion last night.

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At age 84, the man's best performing days are clearly behind him. But watching and hearing a legend is an opportunity not to be missed, and on that level alone, King did not disappoint ...

On a sweltering Baltimore night, the man proved that he can still make his guitar, the wondrous Lucille, moan like nobody's business, that he can still growl in that way that all blues (and many rock) singers have been trying to imitate for decades, and that he can still win over a crowd.

True, his repertoire for the evening included some odd choices: "You are My Sunshine" and "Let the Good Times Roll," but no "Caledonia" and only one stanza of "The Thrill is Gone." But sitting in a chair at the front of the stage, King was clearly in good spirits, even while confessing that he would be going to the doctor's next week and explaining about an ear problem that clearly irritated him.

King's band, introduced as "the legendary B.B. King Blues Band," lived up to every inch of its billing, laying down some serious blues rhythms and even jazzing things up on occasion.

King has taught generations of guitarists how to play, and as one of the last surviving links to the blues that gave birth to rock and roll, he's earned every ounce of veneration he gets. Sure, it would have been nice to hear him roar through a longer playlist, to hear him coax some extended blues riffs from Lucille.

But a B.B. King experience is still a B.B. King experience, and listening to him play the blues  these days would be akin to hearing Thomas Jefferson expound on democracy. There's nothing like sitting at the feet of a master, someone who really knows of what he speaks.

King had to be a happy man before the show, provided he was backstage to hear his opening act, Promise of the Real. Fronted by Lukas Nelson, Willie's son, the band played a scabrous 40-minute set, complete with Nelson even playing the guitar with his teeth for a while. Yeah, every guitarist wants to make like Jimi Hendrix, but Nelson looked and sounded great while doing it, pounding out vibrant blues/rock riffs with propulsive flair. Playing with energy, style and a touch of old-style sass, Nelson and his band had the audience on its feet by the end of their set.

(Baltimore Sun photos by Christopher T. Assaf)

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