The B.B. King concert validated all the cliches about the blues. Like the saying that the blues are the most honest kind of music in the world or that they represent the dignity of the African-American people. Or that they soothe your pain, or that they empower an oppressed spirit. Even the jazz cliche that "the notes he plays aren't as important as the notes he doesn't play" was illustrated by King's performance at the Huntsmen Center Friday night.It began, as most blues shows begin, with the backup band. A corpulent trumpeter in a gold tuxedo, James Bolden signaled the band in, and a dignified-looking older gentleman (Leon Warren) took a smooth solo on guitar, followed by silver-haired Melvin Jackson upping the intensity on tenor sax. Bolden played a tight, "old school" solo on muted trumpet, and James Tony entered on a heavy vibrato Hammond organ.
After everyone (three horns, a guitar, a keyboardist, a bass and two drummers playing in sync) had soloed twice, Jackson announced B.B. King's arrival and the crowd rose to its feet. "B.B. King's here," announced the charismatic 72-year-old with a big, bug-eyed smile.
An entire column could be written on B.B. King's facial expressions while he plays guitar. Sometimes comical, sometimes intensely dignified, sometimes wise, they mirror his playing. When he plays a straight-up melody, like his signature "You Are My Sunshine," his trills, slurs and accents intensify the melodic phrase. When he solos more freely, which is most of the time, he expresses himself with emphatic gestures that he then qualifies with added pontifications and explanations outside the song's main rhythm.
Warren has a much subtler, more jazz-influenced style on guitar, which beautifully comple-ments King. Because King doesn't sing and play at the same time, Warren played backup for King's vocals. This was especially effective on the slower, sweeter numbers.
The three horns, which included band newcomer Stanly Abernathy on trumpet, provided a joyous, gospel choir-like backup for the first few numbers. Then they left the stage, and King, Warren and bassist Michael Doster sat down on soft comfortable chairs and played some downhome, mid-tempo blues.
His bassist had to remind him what city he was in, but the only other clue to King's age was his wisdom and soul.
The two-drum arrangement, which King added five years ago for a "stereo effect," really up-kicked the solos and backup melodies on the most honest tune of the evening, "Rock Me." True to habit, King told a long story in the middle of this tune about Saturday night parties and homemade moonshine. Although it may have been stone sober, the audience could relate because of his intoxicating music.