Monday, July 30, 2007

A night with Al Green and B.B. King

A couple weeks ago, Palace Entertainment did a quickie 2-day half-price sale on tickets to a bunch of concerts here this summer. So I picked up a couple shows. Tonight’s was the “B.B. King Blues Festival,” with B. B. King, Al Green and Etta James, and $10 a ticket for the lawn, parking included. Can’t beat that.

The time was listed as 7pm, and with multiple artists on the bill, I figured they’d start on time. But I really wanted to see Al Green. We missed him the last time he was through. Of course, I wanted to see B.B. King and Etta James, too, but figured we could afford to miss some of Etta’s set if it meant avoiding Pine Knob traffic, and we just saw B.B. a few months ago and figured it’d be pretty similar.

We aimed for a 7:30 arrival; unfortunately, it seems like everybody else did, too – we ended up in a mile long backup. By the time we got out of the car, we could clearly hear “Let’s Stay Together” coming from the speakers. Damn! Got to the entry, and found out why: “Etta James will not be performing tonight.” No explanation. The song ended as we climbed the hill, and I almost freaked. It was 8pm, could Al Green be done already?

Fortunately, he wasn’t. The lawn was packed. Not the pavilion; apparently the masses had all caught the sale, and it was one huge party zone up there. I can’t say what it was like down in the pavilion; it looked pretty dad and the back half was empty. But up top, it was about 50/50 black/white, all together, and it seemed like everyone knew the words to every song, and a good portion of them were up and dancing the whole time.

As for Al? He was in very good voice, with a tight band, a couple cool male dancers, and from his version of the BeeGees song (which he owns), to the closing combination of “Tired of Being Alone” and an extended “Love and Happiness,” the performance sizzled.

After that, B.B. was, dare I say it, a bit of a letdown. He can still play, and boy can he sing, but he was way long on the hoary shtick and not enough on the music. The party zone wanted to worship, but too often it just wasn’t happening. Viagara jokes only go so far, even for an octogenerian. Some of the spoken bits worked, especially the ones about his youth; unfortunately they seemed the exception this night.

As it was when we saw King in January at the Fox, a centerpiece song was the Bono-authored “When Love Comes to Town,” a presentation seemingly made more for its connection to U2 than for any worthiness in the set. It received a polite ovation, but when he followed that by going in to “All Over Again,” the wave of recognition was immediate. But when that was followed by a spoken intro to “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman” that had to last 10 minutes, we’d reached our limit – and apparently so had plenty of others. We had determined not to stick for the end, anyway, due to the traffic, but that one chased us, along with several hundred others. As we headed for the parking lot, he was doing a beautiful version of “You Are My Sunshine,” and we could hear the guitar sing from time to time as we left.

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