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Monday, November 22, 2010

B. B. King: Live At The Apollo


1) When Love Comes To Town; 2) Sweet Sixteen; 3) The Thrill Is Gone; 4) Ain't Nobody's Bizness; 5) Paying The Cost To Be The Boss; 6) All Over Again; 7) Nightlife; 8) Since I Met You Baby; 9) Guess Who; 10) Peace To The World.

Not content with filling in the shoes of Johnny Cash, less than a year later B. B. went out again and, this time, tried on those of James Brown. (Live At Leeds, Live At Budokan, and Live In Red Square are all titles that we expect to see in the next two or three centuries, regardless of whether Mr. King already got there or is still biding his time). It is not entirely clear if the folks at the Apollo wanted the man that much more than the inmates at San Quentin, but it is entirely cle­ar that King, at least, seems to feel more at home over here than over there (then again, come to think of it, who wouldn't? Leadbelly, perhaps?). This is reflected not just in the generally cooler swagger of the actual performances, but also in the decrease of the amount of stage banter — with no need to soothe or sway the appreciative crowd, B. B. just buries himself in the singing and playing, reducing audience participation to a bare minimum.

There is a huge backing band here, the Philip Morris Super Band led by piano great Gene Harris, ensuring the ideal blues-de-luxe accompaniment, although some have complained that the band's talents have pretty much been wasted: King does not provide a lot of breathing space, nor does he budge away from his typical material into jazzier territory. On the other hand, this is a B. B. King live album, and he had let other people overshadow his playing and singing so many times in his life that, sometimes, a great professional band may suffer becoming a great professional backing band — and it does that with plenty of verve and understanding. (Gene Harris does have a few juicy piano solos, if you are wondering).

The setlist is almost completely predictable; the only drop of fresh blood is U2's contribution to the ca­talog, the perfectly B.-B.-Kingish blues-pop-rocker 'When Love Comes To Town' (which here al­most ends up sounding like one of his 1950s hits, rather than the modern, Bonified version on U2's Rattle & Hum). On the other hand, he resuscitates some long-time oldies, e. g. 'All Over Again', sort of King's personal equivalent of the tragic theater of 'St. James Infirmary', lyrically diluted for the public at large, and Ivory Joe Hunter's 'Since I Met You Baby', a song that also fits his easy-going, nice-mannered persona to a tee.

The good news is that the man is in top form, the band is well-oiled, and most of the songs are classic; of the latter day live albums from King, Apollo is one of the most obvious choices. The bad news is that it may all be a little too slick — the setlist is too choked with crowdpleasers, and King is playing it all too safe, never soloing for too long and not taking any chances. 'The Thrill Is Gone', for instance, fades out before it even crosses the four-minute mark, despite the fact that, normally, it is one of King's usual improvisation launchpads. He only gets to truly stretch out on 'All Over Again', much less so on 'Sweet Sixteen'.

Yes, he can certainly be excused for wanting to go out there and make a «proper» live album for all the nice ladies and gentlemen who have been so good to him over the years — but that is no excuse for not releasing that real live album that the fans would really want from him. It is amazing to realize how many times people have wit­nessed the man ripping Live At The Regal to shreds while onstage — yet, for some bizarre reason, he still has not authorized the release of an official live album to prove that to non-concert-goers.

Check "Live At The Apollo" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Live At The Apollo" (MP3) on Amazon

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