B.B. King came to town Thursday night with trusty guitar Lucille in hand and a powerhouse eight-man band at his side, but it was more like a visit from an elder statesman than it was your typical blues concert.
The 83-year-old blues legend was in a talkative mood, telling stories and cracking jokes throughout the hour-and-45-minute show at the Stranahan Theater.
He said he gets angry at the way rappers talk about women, for example, and that he s never met an ugly woman. All women are beautiful. King also told a long tale in questionable taste about how he gets medical help from Dr. Viagra and Nurse Cialis.
As a storyteller and standup comic, King ranks a notch higher than my Uncle George. Which isn t saying much, although B.B. does come across as more humble and jovial than my dour uncle.
But when King decided to make some music, he sang with a heartwrenching growl and zipped across the guitar frets with the surgical precision and fluidity that have made him the most revered blues artist alive.
The show opened with the B.B. King Orchestra playing two upbeat instrumental tunes, featuring the four horn players, guitarist, and keyboardist trading solos while the drums and bass nailed down rock-solid rhythms.
Then King walked out from the wings, wearing an iridescent tuxedo and waving to the crowd of 1,500. He promptly took a seat at center stage and tossed dozens of guitar picks into the first few rows of the audience.
When an aid handed him his sleek new Lucille, a custom black Gibson model with B.B. King 83 emblazoned on the headstock, he jumped right in and added a few sizzling solos in winding up the band s instrumental opener.
Although he sat the entire concert, King was constantly in motion, even when not playing guitar or singing. He shimmied and shook, waved his arms in the air, made countless facial gestures, tossed his head back for hearty laughs, and pointed one arm skyward in homage to John Travolta s famous Saturday Night Fever pose.
He moved into a slow blues version of I Need You So, a song he dedicated to his late Aunt Bessie from Toledo.
King and the band then slipped into a New Orleans vibe for One Kind Favor, the title track from his new, highly acclaimed CD. King said the tune was recorded when I was a boy, 100 years ago, by one of his heroes, Blind Lemon Jefferson.
After revving it up for another classic -- Everyday I Have the Blues -- with its mighty rhythm powered by the swinging horn section, King paused to talk about why he is still on the road at age 83.
He said he knows he would soon grow tired of watching old John Wayne and Gene Autry movies and going fishing with a cane pole, and he surely would miss the warm applause and the smiling faces that come from playing concerts.
So I believe you re just going to have to put up with me a little longer, he said to rousing applause.
One of the biggest surprises of the night was King s silky light touch on You Are My Sunshine, the Jimmy Davis song that he played between stories and advice on how men should woo their ladies including setting the mood with Willie Nelson s Always On My Mind. The blues great followed those stories with his Viagra jokes and a ditty that, if it has a title, is probably called Just Because I m Over 50 Doesn t Mean I m a Dirty Old Man.
King closed out his show with his signature song, The Thrill Is Gone, and a gritty blues number, You Gotta Love Somebody.
Soaking up the applause, the blues legend, still seated, spent a few minutes tossing handfuls of guitar picks and a few necklaces into the crowd, then stood up, donned a black fedora and white overcoat, and walked out of the spotlight and off the stage.
King s Thursday night concert came 30 years to the day that he first played the Stranahan Theater, then known as the Masonic Theater, on Oct. 2, 1978.
Opening the show was the Nerak Roth Patterson Band, a dynamic seven-piece blues group from Yellow Springs, Ohio. Patterson is a deft guitarist with a slashing blues sound and a charismatic smile. His biggest smile came when, beaming with pride, he introduced his newest band member, Nerak Roth Patterson, Jr., who just turned 16 and was making his debut as the group s second guitarist.