Band Concert Review
Buddy Guy & Robert Randolph: Carrying The Weight of the Blues
Legends Night Club - Chicago, IL, USA - Wednesday January 23, 2008
The temperature is hovering around zero on a bitter-cold Chicago night in January. Im having my ID checked and as soon as I get the go ahead, I walk into Buddy Guys Legends night club and the place is smoking literally, figuratively and every other way imaginable. Flash forward 90-minutes and Im standing towards the back of the club and the one and only Buddy Guy is mere inches from me wailing on his guitar as if he still has something to prove. To give you clearer perspective, Im closer to him at this very moment than his band members are when playing with him on stage. A long standing tradition finds Buddy leaving the stage to roam the club as his guitar howls like the ghost of Robert Johnson making you immediately fall in love with the blues. I vigilantly watch his fingers move across the frets as he stylishly picks away at the strings. This moment in time is one of the most effortless and singular musical moments of my life and proves that anyone who witnesses this miracle will have the blues embedded inside of them until the day they die.
I think I saw an angel just walk by
-What Kind of Woman Is This?
Every musical artists has a watershed moment when their world changed from a singular musical experience, for Eric Clapton, it was discovering Buddy Guy. Now, regardless of the genre or artist, they emulate their heroes in the hopes of providing an homage to them. But the thing about Buddy Guy hes the real deal. Seeing him inches away from me, I realize that no one can teach you the blues. It is something from another realm of the senses that cant be taught, it has to be felt. Its much like speed in sports. You can train wide receivers how to maneuver, lead-off hitters to study a pitchers style and an Olympian runner how to pace themselves, but you cant teach them speed, its embedded in their DNA. The same could be said of the blues. One of the reasons the blues isnt emulated in its purest form is because the ones who can do it effortlessly are few and far between. They make take pieces of it, throw a pop spin on it, make it their own, but rarely do you find anyone who encapsulates the subtle beauty of the blues as well as Buddy Guy. It would be like watching sermons from the Apostles for years until one day while walking up the mountain you encounter Jesus performing a miracle. It doesnt make the Apostles sermons any less relevant, it just makes the miracle that much more profound. The occurrence is an entirely different aura laced with unforced virgin talent no one can close to emulating.
Im ashamed to admit it, but being a life long Chicagoan, I somehow have never seen Buddy Guy in his Legends night club during his month long stint every January. Its practically a secret I harbored because I find it as shameful as people who live in New York and have never been the the Met or who live in Paris and have never been to the Louvre. I arrived early enough to catch a few of the opening acts and let me tell you, even if Buddys not in the house, youd be hard pressed to find better and more genuine blues players anywhere else in the world. Within the walls of the club there is a soul that cant be defined or expressed, its merely a feeling one embraces the second they set foot in the building. Even though the club will be moving down the block later this year, the same aura will be there because as long as the club exists as a live music venue, the blues will continue to live on.
A little after 10:30 PM, Buddy was introduced and they apologized for him coming on late but an unexpected special guest had turned up at the last minute. I was partially worried because I didnt want the guest to take away from my time with Buddy. However, that proved to be a non-issue because when Buddy Guy hit the stage in a white hat and long sleeved American shirt, he and his four-piece band owned the stage and I know that all around the world on this particular night, there was no greater place to be. The set began with the fiery What Kind of Woman Is This? from his illustrious 2005 release Bring Em In. My upbringing and early experience to music came from a genre of rock far from the blues, however, over time I slowly rediscovered many of these artists influences and whenever you study any form or genre of rock n roll, it all comes back to the blues and theres no better living example of this than Buddy Guy.
Half way through his second song, Buddy abruptly stopped the band and decided he wanted to play something different. Watching the fluidity of the band whose dynamics is inviting made me question why Id even bother seeing an arena show ever again, because this is as raw and real as music will ever get. The swell of emotions just flows through Guys hands. Its like watching God wield his power through this legend, because no one should be this good. My Time After Awhile gingerly exposed his inner broken hearted bluesman as he rubbed the guitar against his chest evoking deeply buried emotions. This is the beauty of the blues-everyone has been down and out in their lives at some point and when you experience the blues, you immediately feel like it understand who you are. Poison Ivy was electrifying with the exuberating tongue in cheek chorus. Buddy and the band delivered the song with off-hand grace and most importantly, it proved Buddy does not like to steal the spotlight. His entire band showed their wide and varied dimensions and each member had their moment to shine on this number and the reactionary Watch Yourself. This isnt about ego or whose solo was longer, its about the blues.
Despite the ethereal atmosphere, the evening was about the plunge itself into another stratosphere during the spare ballad, I Just Want To Make Love To You, which was preceded with Robert Randolph taking the stage. This wasnt a clash of the younger and older generations trying to outdo one another but a forthright and sincere jam whose love of the blues found them allocating their talents to put a spell on the crowd which will forever remain flash-frozen in my mind. This wasnt rehearsed or sound checked it was as impromptu and real as music comes and it was nothing short of magnanimous. Watching these two masters play their respective instruments takes everything I have learned about live performances over the course of hundreds of live concerts and spins it on its head. Its about a common connection and running with your gut feeling. Whatever set list there was by this point was long gone and they were flying by the seat of their pants.
Voodoo Chile and Hoochie Coochie Man were wistful, wicked and wondrous sights to behold as I felt like I was invited into the inner sanctum of friends to see two men whose love for music equaled the energy in the room. Watching the two of them bring these songs to life makes you believe in a higher power. The club atmosphere allows the music can breathe and be free warranting the exuberant jams and spiritual yielding to be felt. Buddy Guy was as fiery, explosive and personable as when I have seen him open for the Rolling Stones in arenas and at festivals with tens of thousands of people. Every year, I go and see a few dozen concerts, write about them and often think fondly about them. The bar has been set high for 2008, as the first concert I experienced proved to be transcendental. Robert Randolph proved he is worthy of not just sharing the stage with Buddy Guy, but also being given the task of carrying to torch one day when Buddy no longer can. He will take the blues through the next few generations and if what I witnessed on a frigid Chicago evening is any hint of foreshadowing, there will be numerous divine experiences left to be had because he feels it and channels it through the instrument and his hands.