Buddy Guy & Jimmie Vaughan at Arena Theatre, 8/30/2013
By now most Buddy Guy fans know to pack an extra pinch of salt between their cheek and gum before going to see him live. The man does go on sometimes.
The Louisiana-born septuagenarian bluesman's credentials extend quite a bit further than Friday's scripted introduction of "six-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer." He's also a ham whose mugging ability is second only to Bill Cosby (maybe), an ornery old cuss unafraid to drop an f-bomb at the drop of his spiffy white flat cap, and -- lest we forget -- a 2012 Kennedy Center honoree and the last surviving member of Chess Records' formidable '50s and '60s roster, which starts with Guy's mentor Muddy Waters.
Guy assured the sizable but not quite sold-out Arena Theatre crowd he could play all night, but stuck to within a few minutes of his allotted hour and a half of stage time. While a few more minutes of "Messin' With the Kid" wouldn't have hurt at all, what he gave us turned out to be plenty.
Closing with that old Chicago standard, which Guy made famous with his old harmonica foil Junior Wells, amounted to a less than triumphant ending -- the house lights were up even before some members of Guy's four-piece band were offstage -- but he had already made one remarkable recovery.
Frankly it's a wonder he had anything left at all after opener "Damn Right I've Got the Blues." About the least subtle thing about Guy's leadoff cut was his thrusting his hips against his guitar. It's a powerful, angry song (and one of his best), one where the pain and frustration are almost palpable, and Guy's flamboyance -- which extended to flapping his arms during the next song, "Five Long Years" -- only fanned the flames.
By this point he resembled an old-timy preacher, grunting, gasping and practically speaking in tongues. His faces were almost as priceless as the stories he told while pausing for breath: giving a shoutout to Lightnin' Hopkins while remembering the days when "every time I saw a white face I said 'hide the wine bottle' because it's a policeman," or about not having running water until age 17 during Waters' epic "Hoochie Coochie Man."
In that one, Guy unleashed one unruly barrage of notes after another while circling the auditorium's perimeter and at one point paused in the aisle; the sea of cameraphones surrounding him made the scene resemble a sudden NFL press conference. When he reached one of the bar areas, it created quite a night-vision effect on the overhead video screen.
It was good, good stuff, and you got the feeling he knew it.
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