Concert Review: Buddy Guy, Pantages Theatre, 6/27/09, Winnipeg, MB
Blues guitar legend Buddy Guy (July 30, 1936) performed a raucous, rocking show at the Pantages Theatre for the 2009 Jazz Winnipeg Festival, displaying not only virtuosity on his guitar, but also a unusually strong rapport with the audience, who seemed like a bunch of old friends. One of the guys in front of me was so excited to be there that he kept on punching his friend in the shoulder, to release his pent up excitement.
Unlike the shy Derek Trucks who lets his guitar do the talking, Buddy Guy was constantly grinning and speaking to the audience between songs. He playfully chided the audience when he asked them how many had purchased his most recent recording, 2008's Skin Deep. He also lamented the fact that his kind of music tends to take a long time to sell, given the state of commercial radio. He spoke about his upbringing and how, as a kid, he didn't understand how tough it was for his parents to put food on the table when all they had to eat for supper was a boiled potato. When he refused the potato, his mother sent him to bed with a glass of water. His point was that, although things were tough at the moment, they could be much worse. This earned applause from the audience.
Guy's guitar sound was excellent and his playing was delicious and impeccable. He's long been known as a master of Chicago blues, but isn't limited to commanding one particular style. I had a sense that I was witnessing a bit of history in seeing one of the originators of Chicago electric blues.
The audience were clearly in the mood to participate in the show and Guy had them singing along to Skin Deep, and made the point that "...we're all the same underneath." He spoke about rap and hip-hop artists being able to say literally anything they wanted, while back in the old days, blues artists had to use more subtle approaches. He then performed some of these older songs with double-entendre lyrics to illustrate his point. In one song, he spoke about "...one leg was in the east, one leg was in the west. I went down in the middle TRYIN' to do my best," which had the audience positively howling. When he played "She's Nineteen Years Old," in which Guy stopped and playfully asked the audience to stop looking at him that way, as Muddy Waters wrote the song, not him. The audience cracked up again.
Ever the showman, and wanting to get closer to his fans, he walked down the stairs on the left side of the stage, leading to the audience in the front row. He stopped to allow a young child strum his guitar and then proceeded to walk up the aisle, to the back of the theatre, as audience members craned their necks to catch a better view. All this time, the music kept on playing. Cell and camera phones were heavily utilized as he was literally inches away from some people. He made his way to one of the lodges on the right side of the stage and might have been expecting to simply exit there to get back to the front row. He backtracked from there to the back of the theatre and then walked down the right side aisle. While there, a woman near the left side aisle yelled out "Other side," to get him to return.
It was a virtual love-in for Buddy Guy and his solid band. He offered to "...play all night, if you want me to," but alas, after Buddy's set, there was no encore. While Guy is one of a few artists who I’ve seen skip encores, the others being Sonny Rollins and Interpol, I totally felt like I had my money’s worth.
Many famous guitarists, from Jimi Hendrix, to Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughan, have praised Buddy Guy for his immense talent and he's also seen as a historic link between them and the tradition of electric Chicago blues. He's won five Grammy awards during his on-going recording career which began in 1965, in addition to countless other commendations, including being listed as one of Rolling Stone Magazine 100 greatest guitar players off all time, as well as having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 by Eric Clapton and B.B. King.
Canadian blues treasure Big Dave McLean opened the show with his band. He's been a performer for over 30 years and put on a no-frills show strong on blues vocals and guitar playing. He had a second guitarist with him who also performed a lot of excellent lead work. Big Dave has been one of the top bluesmen in Canada for a long time and even toured with Muddy Waters many years ago. He also performed his famous song, "Muddy Waters For President," which drew a lot of applause.This was my first time seeing Buddy Guy, but I hope it won't be my last. My rating for this show is 5/5.