Tuesday, April 24, 2007

B.B. King

B.B. King: Standing Room Only
S’More Entertainment

To hear B.B. King live today is about the equivalent of seeing Sinatra live in his late prime—it will set you back. When he plays his Times Square club, usually $75 or so will just get you in the door. It is rewarding to see a blues artist enjoy that kind of deserved success, but if you want to see a representative B.B. King set without breaking the entertainment budget, you can check out Standing Room Only.

Standing Room features the big hits one would want, including “When Love Comes to Town,” which features a short solo from his saxophonist/band director nephew Walter King. The bluesman King was influenced by jazz greats like Charlie Christian, and one can see a jazz ethos in King’s willingness to give solo features to his band members, with the most space probably given to bassist Michael Doster.

His gospel influences can also be heard to full effect on a medley of “I’m a Poor Man, But I’m a Good Man” and “Ain’t Nobody’s Business What I Do.” His humor can be heard too, as he needles the audience into some call and response: “We only got a few and some of them were late. . . One more time”

Whether directing the audience or the band, King commands the bandstand, and his playing is not the least diminished. He probably plays “The Thrill is Gone” over three hundred times a year, but he still burns it up. It’s also just cool to hear saxophonist Melvin Jackson yell “B.B. King, undisputed king of the blues” as the band chugs away on “Thrill.” It brings to mind the drama of James Brown, and also how few musicians of King and Brown’s stature are left.

Although the live concert was clearly re-sequenced for video release (sometimes distractingly so), the rousing closer “Peace to the World” is a fitting conclusion. Again King’s gospel affinities can be heard, particularly in James Toney’s piano and keyboards.

For King, Standing Room was another good show, nicely filmed and recorded. Its DVD release also includes some radio interviews, in effect delivering more than the 62 minutes promised on the back jacket. Of course, the best way to hear King is live in concert, but it would be in more expensive venues than the fateful juke in Twist, Arkansas.