Buddy Guy knew exactly where he was on Friday when he took the stage at The Royal Grove.
After bringing the stinging guitar work he’d show off all night to his signature “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” and conjuring up the black cat bone, mojo and Johnny Concheroo of Muddy Waters’ classic “Hoochie Coochie Man,” the 85-year-old legend started talking about playing the Zoo Bar decades ago.
“My late friend Magic Slim moved here,” he said. “I know what’s going on in Lincoln.”
What was going on Friday was a hard-to-believe-it’s-this-good show from Guy and his four-man band that felt like it turned Guy’s clock back a few decades.
In consistently great voice, he delivered songs from standards like “King Bee” to his own “Nothin’ But the Blues” with sly verve.
As for his guitar work, well, it was simply astounding. Using the fully dynamic range of the electric guitar, Guy shifted from delicate, quiet passages to full-on fiery soloing in seconds.
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And – here’s the sign of a true master– his frenetic, passionate playing was all in service of the song, not the showboating self-indulgence of the majority of blues rockers.
As always, the engaging Guy talked a lot throughout the show, offering marital advice for men, telling a couple slightly raunchy stories, commenting on the state of the blues on the radio – it’s non-existent – how rappers can now say exactly what they want while the bluesmen of the '50s, '60s and '70s had to make allusions to get their risqué notions across.
And, he made plenty of references to late ‘60s-early ‘70s blues revival triggered by English bands.
“Black people have been playing the blues a lot longer than white people,” Guy said. “When the British guys started playing the blues, what Americans got was Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf. They took the blues and came back to tell us who we are.”
Those guys, included the Rolling Stones, who took their name from a Waters song and Eric Clapton, who, along with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, were among those who championed Guy and helped bring him far wider attention in the early ‘90s.
But as he paid respect to the Brits, Guy also did his “anything they can do, I can do better” routine, delivering searing licks and solos originated by the likes of Clapton and Jimi Hendrix that easily eclipsed the original, before ending that run with a killer blues take on John Hiatts’ “It Feels Like Rain”
Always the consummate showman, Guy, earlier, had thrown a T-shirt over the neck of this Stratocaster while it was laying flat on an amplifier, then banged the strings with a drumstick, pulling out riffs from Cream and ZZ Top songs.
Strapping the guitar back on, he again used the shirt, this time beating the strings, bringing up licks and riffs that led into a short, passionate version of the Talking Heads’ “Take Me to the River.”
Near the end of the 90-minute show, Guy strapped on his wireless guitar and, in another of concert constants, took a stroll through the audience, smiling broadly – he gave me a nod when he passed for the second – playing with verve and getting around just fine for a man of his age.
Seeing Guy at the Grove was truly special. Opener Tom Hambridge talked about how the tour mostly plays theaters, an off-staid, distant experience. And Guy was off to New Orleans after Friday’s show.
There, on Sunday, he was to close out the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where he’d be played for tens of thousands - a far cry from the 800 that got to see Guy’s best Lincoln show in 30 plus years, a concert for the memory books from the last man standing of the Chicago blues originals.
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