B.B. King w/ Paul Cebar @ The Riverside Theater
May 31, 2013
Legendary blues man B.B. King celebrated his 87th
birthday last fall, not that you would know that from the busy schedule he
keeps. He could have easily retired some time ago, with both his musical legacy
and his financial future firmly intact, but still he goes on playing dozens of
dates a year, entertaining legions of faithful fans with his trusty guitar,
Lucille. It’s rather admirable really; since he began recording in the late
1940s, he’s sold countless albums, inspired generations of guitarists, won every
award there is, and has his name on a successful chain of national clubs, so
the only conceivable reason he could have to pack up and hit the road is that
he loves it, that after all these years, that after all these decades, he still
gets a thrill out of it. Of course, you could also tell that just by watching
his performance here tonight.
Warming up the crowd, who were thick as thieves all the way up to the cheap seats—are they still cheap seats at $55 a pop?—was Milwaukee’s own Paul Cebar. If you’ve ever seen him live, or ever tuned into his Way Back Home radio program Wednesday mornings on WMSE, it should come as no surprise that his set was eclectic, veering into zydeco, R&B and pop, but being the shrewd, versatile entertainer he is, he and his band also cooked up some of the classic 12 bar blues the audience was expecting. After the brief intermission that followed their well-received set, during which time the crowd, of an age to have some disposable income, mobbed the well-stocked merch table, the lights flashed and everyone returned to their seats, ready for the master to take the stage. As it turned out, they’d have to wait a little longer.
His eight person band came out first, running through about 15 minutes of jazzy swing, spotlighting each member for an extended solo before announcing the arrival of King, who took his throne center stage in his shiny blue sport coat and proceeded to wow everyone in the room. The band may do some of the heavy lifting, stepping up here and there to give King a well-deserved break, but what comes through is his personality and Lucille’s mellifluous voice. It was great to hear beefed-up arrangements of classics like “The Thrill is Gone” and “Nobody Loves Me but My Mother,” but perhaps more memorable were the quieter moments, like a sweetly heartfelt rendition of “You are My Sunshine.” The banter, jokes and stories seem to come as easily as the guitar solos, and indeed he genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself. As long as that remains the case, the crowds will be there to enjoy it too.