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Last Night: BB King at the BankAtlantic Center


B.B. King and Joe Bonamassa at the BankAtlantic Center

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Better Than: When you ask your baby for water and she brings you gasoline.

At 82, the good news is that B.B. King can still play and sing with aplomb. The bad news is that he’d rather talk.

At least that’s what happened Saturday when the King of the Blues and his swingin’ eight piece band came to the BankAtlantic center.

For Saturday’s performance, BankAtlantic’s hockey rink was cut in half by a large black curtain so as to create the smaller, more intimate setting the venue bills as “The Sinatra Theatre”. It’s the same place-- just half the size with better acoustics.

Thirty year old “Smokin’” Joe Bonamassa, a notable up-and-coming guitar slinger, opened the show with a 45-minute set comprised of blues and blues-rock originals. Bonamassa, who plays largely in the now-ubiquitous Stevie Ray Vaughan hard blues-rock style and sings a little bit like Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers, found his footing in the early '90s when he recorded some good tunes in a band called Bloodline comprised with the sons of Miles Davis, Robbie Krieger (the Doors), and Berry Oakley (Allman Brothers). Bonamassa’s electric material was good, although not terribly memorable. With his final song though, Bonamassa shed his four piece band and went solo acoustic for an exciting number called “Woke Up Dreaming,” a show-off piece which displayed his guitar-picking prowess.

Then, promptly at 9, B.B.’s band took the stage. With old time showmanship, the four horns, rhythm guitarist, electric bass player, drummer, and keyboard player warmed up the crowd for two numbers before announcing His Highness. For a man of his girth and age, B.B. strolled coolly onstage. The crowd gave him a warm standing-O before he plopped into the chair where he remained for the next two hours.

The band vamped in the background while B.B. greeted the audience and cracked wise about his age: “I can imagine you saying ‘B.B.’s so old he can’t stand up and play.’ Well, you’re just about right.” He has diabetes and bad knees, he explained. He lamented the irony of how women seem to get prettier -- and sweeter -- as he ages, but how he can’t pursue their affection: “Now that I’m too old to bust an egg, they come up to me and go [insert smooching sound]... Why didn’t they do that 50 years ago?”

B.B. didn’t let his romantic travails stop him from ripping into the jump blues, “Let the Good Times Roll”. I haven’t seen him perform in 10 years, so I was worried age would diminish his performance. B.B. dispelled my fears when I heard his vocals boom (from the side of his mouth, of course) and saw his trademark left hand shake like a blender, delivering perfect vibrato notes on top of quick runs and sweet bends.

B.B. pulled out a number of favorites, including “I Need You So”, “Every Day I have the Blues”, “Rock Me Baby”, a stellar version of “The Thrill is Gone,” and “When Love Comes to Town,” which U2’s Bono wrote for him 20 years ago.

The old guy still has the chops and the show was good, but it would have been great had he spent less time yukking it up with the crowd. For instance, we could have done without his five-minute riff on how to spike Mogen David wine with vodka so as to help romance the ever-temperamental womenfolk. “You don’t wanna make ladies angry and make em’ go on strike,” he cautioned. No, but we don’t want to hear blues legend B.B. King play “You Are My Sunshine” as part of a ploy to get the ladies to kiss the men, either.

“Only politicians talk more than I do,” B.B. said. That wouldn’t have been a problem had he thrown in a few more tunes -- say, for instance, the notably absent “Sweet 16”.

Still, after 60 years of recording and playing, B.B. has enough good karma that he deserved the standing ovation on his way out. As he does every show, B.B. tossed guitar picks and (presumably) inexpensive gold chains into the audience. A stagehand helped him don a felt hat and what appeared to be a long mink coat. Then, properly attired for the Florida weather, he walked regally offstage, never looking back.

Personal Bias: Scooter trash dudes should be thrown out after the first time they yell at B.B. from the balcony. Please security, don’t let them bleat all night.

Random Detail: BankAtlantic -- or the Sinatra Theatre or whatever you call it -- is entirely too cold.

By the Way: In the '90s, B.B. gave his guitar, “Lucille,” to Pope John Paul II. Do you think the Pontiff hocked it or stashed it in the basement next to a Bernini knock-off?

--Bill Frogameni

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Jonathan Cunningham

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