Theatre in Review

Ron Reis

Ron Reis

Talk about an interesting night of music at Ravinia Festival. I knew about Gipsy Kings for a while now. I knew there were guitars involved. What I did not know was the rest of the story.

Flamenco is a Spanish tradition. It is a fiery, romantic style of music defined by the Spanish Guitar. It may seem a little strange that The Gipsy Kings actually are from the south of France, but there is no true border to this tradition.

The origins of this band go back to 1978. Some of the members are sons of original members. They are descendents of some of those who fled Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War in 1930. That explains some of the band’s makeup. This also explains the name of the group. The Kings are not just a Flamenco group, however. They have incorporated Salsa and Pop into their repertoire.

The one thing you cannot ignore is the rhythm of the music. The Gipsy Kings gets the audience clapping. You just can’t help it. As a musician myself, this was a study in rhythm. Syncopation is a big part, feeling the “and” of the beat. For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, clap along with a song and count…1,2,3,4…right? Yeah okay, but most people clap either on beat one and three or two and four. Two and four are the “back beat”. With Latin rhythms there can be multiple back beats. You can clap along with the “and” of the beat…1 and, 2 and, etc. The rhythmic accent is not always the same.

Now let’s take eleven musicians, up to six guitars, bass, two percussionists and vocals and play with the rhythm. Some band members accent different parts of the beat creating a texture of metronomic complexity. Now, on paper that sounds like something hard to dance to. The security at Ravinia (whose job in part is to keep a clear pathway to the stage) had to ask people to stop dancing in the aisles. So, they went back to their seats and danced…and clapped…and sang. Concert attendees could not help themselves. I took my wife with me. She does not dance, forget about it. Guess what? The woman I have known for many years was dancing! I couldn’t believe it. This was a party!

I really wish I would have paid closer attention in Spanish class in high school, though not understanding all the words didn’t stop me from enjoying the music of The Gipsy Kings. I was a bit surprised at how packed the place was since the group is well below what I would call “main stream”. But the band obviously has a major following. This proves you don’t need a Top Forty hit to pack seats in a concert environment. You just need to throw a good party. The Grateful Dead proved that for many years but this was not a counterculture event. These were not hippies dancing. These were regular people having the time of their lives.

The set list was lively and very appetizing including such favorites as “Djobi Djoba”, “Bem, Bem Maria”, “Hotel California”, “Bamboléo”, “Vamos a Bailar”, and “Volare”.

If you have a heartbeat I recommend checking out The Gipsy Kings. I am not really sure if their recordings could actually capture the magic of their live performance, but their live show is nothing short of amazing. Their show is a celebration of life, and celebrations seem to require dancing. Escaping a civil war is a good reason to celebrate, or even just a Friday night. It doesn’t matter, let the party start. 

Ravinia Festival is one of the best summer music venues near Chicago and it's always worth getting out there a few times a year. To see Ravinia's upcoming schedule, visit www.Ravinia.org.

Pat Metheny is one of the few jazz guitar players out there that can play a bigger place and fill it. He almost has Rock Star status. The reason? Maybe it’s the horizontal striped shirt? The leather pants? The hair? The smile? Hmmm…what I really think it is…is the music.

Pat seems to have a Pop sensibility to his compositions. His songs are very melodic. They’re Jazz but they sure are not BeBop. There are interesting rhythms found in each song. Along with that you get a variety of textures. The fact that he doesn’t seem to follow a formula per se adds that extra bit of appeal.

Metheny has changed his sound through the years. Different timbres not only coming from him, but his supporting cast. Pat does seem to have a signature sound, but since he has been putting out music for over forty years the signature has many variations. The band played a lot of his earlier material the other night at Ravinia Festival.

The first piece was a solo piece called “Into the Dream”. I highly suggest looking up the video, if you haven’t seen Pat play this song live. During the song he uses a guitar with a standard guitar neck plus a fretless/harp neck. In addition, there are two more courses of strings going across the body of the guitar. I’m just glad I wasn’t the person who had to tune the instrument. Each course was tuned differently, making the song sound like the title. You were in his dream.

After an impressive opening number, the rest of the band then arrived on the stage. Linda May Han Oh handled upright and electric bass. What a solid player this Malaysian-born young lady is. She held it down throughout the show and performed some very tasty solos.

Antonio Sanchez has been in Pat’s band for a while now on drums. I love Jazz drummers myself. The rhythmic interplay between guitar and drums has long been a part of the music in Metheny’s bands through the years. Hailing from Mexico, Sanchez fit the bill as well as anyone ever in his group.

Longtime collaborator Lyle Mays’ seat at piano was filled by Gwilym Simcock, a British musician. I personally missed Mays’ presence but the music didn’t really suffer any loss. Simcock played very well, perfectly complimenting Metheny.

The show went over two hours with THREE, yes three encores…again…Rock Star status. After what we thought was the last encore, he asked the audience if they wanted to hear one more. So, it made it a four-song finale. The second to last was “And I Love Her” by The Beatles done Pat’s way. There were also three duet sections performed that night. Metheny did one with each of the other group members. Standing out the most was the one he did with Sanchez.

The timbres he got from the different instruments was a big part of what kept the show from ever slowing down. Standard Jazz guitar, guitar synth, classical, plus a guitar with a bizarre tailpiece…that almost sounded like a fuzz tone acoustic…very non-traditional.

Other classic Metheny songs included “Better Days Ahead”, “The Red One”, “Phase Dance”, “James” and “Offramp”, giving the audience a wide spectrum of his work.

I felt lucky to see him. The show was almost rained out. For me, it was 32 years since I saw him last. I will not wait that long until I see him again (that would make him somewhere in his mid 90’s by then anyway). But you never know with this guy. The way he literally runs on and off the stage makes me think he might still be playing then…with hair, the striped shirt and of course the signature grin. Pat is almost always smiling.

Saturday, 10 June 2017 21:14

Robben Ford at SPACE

“If you would shut off your phones, you might enjoy it more……”

This is the day of the cell phone, and in being so, there really needs to be some type of etiquette applied from time to time. I have also been guilty of this myself. When you are watching someone perform ANYTHING, turn off your phone. And the guy on stage shouldn’t have to tell you that either. That happened. I messaged my friend mid set, too.

Okay, but what about Ford's recent show at SPACE in Evanston? Robben Ford is one monster guitar player and hasn’t lost a step. He has played with people ranging from Miles Davis to Kiss. His solo work is very Blues based. Before you even hear a solo, you’ll notice that Ford is also a solid rhythm player. His singing falls right in there, too. Robben is a very precise musician in terms of rhythm. It’s easy to see how he got a lot of the work he has through the years.

Guitar players tend to get judged on their soloing abilities. No problem there. Ford was stepping out on an early 50’s Gibson Les Paul Gold Top. He had his classic Dumble amplifier and tone for days. I know, it’s not the guitar. I know, it’s not the amp. It’s that solid phrasing and the respect for what he is playing. The effects he used were completely unnecessary. He could have easily plugged straight in.

Bassist Brian Allen did his fair share of soloing throughout the set. I would also say he didn’t overplay. Bass players who overplay lose their role from time to time. I didn’t hear that.

Wes Little finished off the trio on drums. Little is a powerhouse type of drummer. A heavy hitter, he also gets a great jazz vibe when needed. He stepped forward for a couple solos, one longer than the others that really showed his chops. I think it takes some seasoning to play like that, to be able to hit hard and yet just right. Even the loudest crashes were musical. Ford even sat behind his amp while Wes took his solo. He may have been in a safe place there.

With an amazing song repertoire that includes “Worried Life Blues”, “High Heels and Throwing Things”, “Can’t Let Her Go”, “When I Leave Here” and so many more, it was surreal at times watching this legend play in such an intimate setting. Ford included a songs from his latest release Into the Sun, which I recommend picking up.

Other than Robben Ford having to tell the people watching to shut off their phones, it was a great show. His calling out cell phone abusers was actually kind of funny, anyway. On second thought, using your phone during a performance might be more sad than anything. When you are watching a musician playing at the top of their game…right in front of you - Pay Attention!

 

Shannon McNally is a singer, song writer and guitar player. Black Irish is her seventh release, if I heard correctly last night at City Winery. There, at City Winery, McNally headlined with Big Sadie playing the first set.

Big Sadie is a Bluegrass quartet from Chicago? Yes, you heard correctly…a Bluegrass quartet from Chicago. A lot of people tend to think this is either a Blues town or cover band town, but there are plenty of hidden gems to be found. You either gotta look or get lucky.

Big Sadie is led by a husband (Collin Moore) and wife (Elise Bergman) team who handle most of the vocals, as well. Bergman plays upright bass and Moore plays guitar. Andy Malloy on banjo and Matt Brown on fiddle complete the quartet.

There were two things I really liked about seeing this group live. Number one were their harmonies. Moore and Bergman have a really sweet blend. Harmonies executed so well make such a difference - getting voices to blend like that. The second thing was they played and sang in front of ONE microphone. I loved it! Very reminiscent of the Grand Old Opry days. They did have the upright going direct but they had everything else going through one mic. With this method, you get your “mix” by your proximity to the microphone. Also, dynamics used by the other players is important. My only criticism of their set up is that the guitar gets buried. The guitar should go direct along with the upright. Moore was playing some hot licks, but they were fighting to be heard.

McNally was accompanied by Brett Hughes on guitars, mandolin and vocals. I see a lot of people playing without drummers lately, which tends to keep a nice volume in clubs sometimes. That way you can just dig into the songs. You can also hear the vocals, a lot of which are lost in the heavy mixes of the bass and drums that dominate a lot of times.

She played a short set, mostly originals. I would honestly have to describe her as seeming uncomfortable. I will admit, I am not familiar with her work at all. She had some nice bluesy moments and I did like her singing and playing. Her songs were good, but easy to forget. In between songs, she just seemed awkward. I understand some people are more creatures of the studio or the writing table and am guessing she’d be in that category. I did really enjoy her last song, a cover of “It Makes No Difference” by The Band.

It’s always a great night at City Winery Chicago. Great food, wine and music. The volume is always adjusted just right in the room, too. You always walk away with happy ears.

Classical Music sounds so much better in person. Music is always better live in my opinion. And hearing magically composed sounds in a hall constructed for the occasion is the icing on the cake. The caliber of the musicians plays a huge part.

Vladimir Spivakov conducted the entire show this past weekend at Orchestra Hall that featured some of Russia’s highly talented musicians working together in a chamber orchestra. A chamber orchestra is a bit different than a symphony orchestra. At times, the music delivered was all strings, violins, violas, cellos and double basses. Some selections had French horn and oboe added.

Spivakov has been a respected musician since the 1960’s. He directed the ensemble with a high level of passion for what he was doing. The dynamics were flat out amazing – something you don’t get with your average Rock band. The softest of piano leads to the loudest of forte, all with a high level of grace.

Another interesting thing about seeing musicians play live is seeing the expression on their faces. Classical Music can on the surface appear stiff. Many might think classical musicians play straight off the page as written. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, the notes are already chosen. Interpretation means a lot. The passion of the performance makes the page come alive. When the players do that, it is amazing.

The performance was divided into two sets. The first was mostly the chamber orchestra. Towards the middle of the set, Danielle Akta joined in on cello. She came out, looking like a kid of fourteen-years-old or so. The emotional intensity knocked the room out. I was watching the four other cellists on stage watching her. Two of them were at least double her age, yet she had their full attention. I can understand why. She took it to another level.

The second set featured Hibla Gerzmava. She is a soprano. It takes a strong voice to fill the hall with a microphone. I know there were mics set up, but I don’t believe they were being used as sound reinforcement. I couldn’t really tell from my vantage point. Having said that, I heard every inflection perfectly. Again, dynamics play a gigantic role in this type of music. It was very theatrical. Hibla at one point was singing to the lead violinist, other times to Spivakov. You can see why a good portion of the great Classical Music out there was written in the Romantic period. It is romantic. Almost, I dare say…erotic. Both Akta and Gerzmava had that quality at times. There was even a bit of humor, too. In a real quiet part of one of the songs sung by Hibla, someone dropped a bottle or something. Everyone heard it, but she kept a straight face. After the piece, she was all smiles.

I was impressed by the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra overall. I loved the vibe of the pieces played. There was a playful interaction between performers that truly resonates.

I have heard a lot of amateur chamber orchestras. Violins are very unforgiving in regard to the intonation of the instrument. What a treat it was to hear this group of in-tune stringed instruments. I have also been trying to hear music and not just listen to it. The idea is to listen without analysis, just hear the music. Musicians know this struggle. Sometimes it is easy to forget the joy that art like this brings to our lives. Anyone can be a critic. I would rather be a lover of the arts. From Russia With Love? Yes, I saw that completely.

 

Friday, 28 April 2017 17:06

Pat Martino - Zen-Like Precision

I had the great fortune of seeing a true living Legend of Jazz Thursday night at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase and was able to speak to him before the first set. Pat Martino is one amazing man. He is also one of the nicest people you could ever meet. I sat and asked him a somewhat unrehearsed collection of questions. I did know a bit about him so the questions were not exactly random.

 

One of the first things we talked about was his approach to taking words and turning them into melodies. Martino explains there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, seven notes in the major scale. That’s three groups of seven and one of five. You repeat the notes after you get to the seventh degree of the scale. Any word can become a melody. This tells you right away that you are not dealing with a traditional thinker here.

 

A word that popped up more than once in the conversation was precision. This is the way he seems to approach all aspects of life, not just music. Another key word was awareness. Awareness is a highly-overlooked concept for most people. Musicians who are tuned into what they are playing and the people they are playing with are going to end up on another level entirely. I consider Pat’s thinking to be extremely Zen in nature. “All there is, is now” was my favorite quote of his. It is very eye opening, really. The idea that the past and future do not truly exist is a reality most of us cannot accept. There is so much truth in that statement.

 

Another thing that struck me was how he talked about not being obsessed with music. That is another strong statement. This at first might seem a bit too casual for a musician to accept. How can a serious musician follow this? It is easy to get so caught up in your music that the rest of your life suffers. The rest of your life should be incorporated into your music. Balance is key to everything, another Zen like concept.

 

Now, let’s talk about the music. Pat currently plays in an organ trio. For those of you unfamiliar, that is organ, guitar and drums. There is no bass player. The organist handles the bass role most of the time. I personally love this type of trio. I am a huge fan of the Hammond B-3, an instrument that gives off one amazing sound - truly hard to duplicate. Pat Bianchi was the man behind the keyboard. He was Martino’s perfect compliment. He traded solos with Pat and provided superb accompaniment. 

 

Carmine Intorre completed the trio on drums. Jazz drummers are amazing creatures. The way they think of rhythm is off the hook. Rhythm is probably the most overlooked piece of the musical puzzle. Nothing grooves without the groove. I have heard the quote that a live band is only as good as the drummer. Intorre kept it going without a bass to lock in with, great job.

 

Pat’s own playing was flawless. I don’t remember hearing a bad note. His solos were highly creative. The rhythm of his phrasing brings back that word precision. Here is a guy pushing seventy-three-years-old that can out play people in the prime of their life. Actually, he may still be in the prime of his life. This guy is using strings on his guitar that most guitar players could not use. I am talking some heavy strings, even for Jazz players. I think a lot of it is due to how the man approaches life. Most people his age are shot, just not much left. He seems to really value a healthy lifestyle. I think being, as he described it, “mostly vegetarian” helps a lot. A lot of artists sacrifice their own health in pursuit if their art. Your body and mind are truly your instrument, not your guitar. The Zen concept again comes to mind.

 

Jazz can seem to be a bit self indulgent at times, all the soloing and all. What it really is a conversation between musicians. That is not always easy to see. However, when musicians are of this caliber, it is. I’m sure a lot of people who go to see a guy like Martino go to see an amazing guitarist. I can count myself on that list but after talking to Pat, I felt like I understood the scene a whole lot more. He talked about how the scene was back in the hey day. It was a community, not just the musicians. Jazz is a very social environment. In some ways, it is musician’s music. The fans are certainly another element. It is an environment for thinking people. An outsider might consider this a snobbish line of thinking. What it really is, is an escape. Jazz is a way of diving into a pool of joy. A lot of intelligent people find it difficult to exist in the world. They need a place to escape. Jazz clubs were at one time filled with people like this. I find it kind of sad in a lot of ways that there really is a very small Jazz scene left. That to me tells you a lot about our society today. 

 

I don’t want to end this on a downer. What I will say is don’t be afraid to think. Think outside the box. My conversation with Pat Martino was a bit of an epiphany to me. It’s okay to think and have your own ideas. You can live your life with a level of precision. This can be a pattern in your life, your music. Incorporating your life into your music is as important as bringing music into your life. I saw an amazing guitar player Thursday night, but I also met an amazing person. Thank You, Mr. Martino.

 

It was an interesting pairing of solo singer/guitar players last night at City Winery. I often check out artists I review that I don’t know before I go and see them. Often, I end up finding they can be quite different than the usual Youtube videos you see. This can be good or bad. A couple reasons for this. There is the energy of the room that cannot be captured on video or sometimes you end up checking out the videos that do not exemplify the band as much. In this case, both artists were better in person than video.

 

First up was Edward David Anderson. I would call him a bit of a story teller type of writer and singer. Most of his songs had entertaining introductions and good story lines. I found it interesting that he sat down and played bass drum while he sang and played guitar - a one-man band. His left foot seemed to be getting something like a tambourine sound. I could not see how he did that, exactly. After opening with a nylon string guitar that looked like it had survived a war, he switched over to banjo for a few songs. After that, he played slide on one of those cigar box guitars. He killed it on the cigar box playing a great version of Bill Preston’s “Go ‘Round In Circles”. I really liked that. 

 

Edward was a very funny guy between songs as well. His own songs were great. I really liked one called “That’s My Dog”. He was not too serious and very down to Earth. I thought his music was very accessible, and the crowd was in agreement. He got a great response. He even did some Dylan-esque harp work and, believe it or not, some kazoo while plying guitar and bass drum.

 

After a short intermission, Seth Walker took the stage. He was sporting and old Gibson hollow body guitar at first. He plugged into a little tube amplifier. He was a little more Blues based, but not a bunch of twelve bar repetition. He had some really good songs, too. He was a switch from Anderson but it was a smooth transition, either one could have been headliner. 

 

He switched to a steel string acoustic after a few songs, joking it was a borrowed guitar. His version of “Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain” was just amazing. Willie Nelson would surely approve. He switched back to the old Gibson for the rest of his set. He also seemed to put a little humor in his delivery. This tends to work rather well in a club this size. The crowd was very relaxed. There was a lot of clapping on two and four during Walker’s set.

 

Anderson came up and joined Walker for the last couple songs. “Ophelia” was a knockout song I first heard The Band do years ago. It had that kind of Levon Helm vibe. 

 

It was yet another great show at City Winery, which is a real nice place to see a show. The wine is excellent and so is the food. They also have a top-notch staff. The crowd was a nice mix too. I would highly recommend both the venue and the two artists highly. It was a great way to spend a Thursday evening.

 

It’s so easy to make comparisons with artists these days. He/she sounds like so and so, etc. My expectation before seeing Becca Stevens was to find a folk singer along the lines of the clichéd variety. I was surprised at what I found. I guess Stevens does somewhat fit into the folk category only because the industry likes to file music into genres. However, the folkie title is a bit too generic for her music.

 

Stevens is the singer/songwriter type for sure. That being said, I would consider her music to be more along the lines of eclectic pop sprinkled with some folk and almost Medieval overtones. During her recent performance in support of her latest release Regina at City Winery, I sat back, unsure of what to expect live. As l listened to Stevens’ set, I heard some very catchy melodies including those in “Queen Mab” off her latest album. Steven’s voice I might compare with someone like a Joni Mitchell, at least in terms of range, though her songs were quite different than Joni’s. I really liked the band she had, as well. Three musicians backed her up - drums, keys and bass. Stevens also played guitar – and well.

 

Steven’s ability to play guitar with such heart and technical prowess was jaw-dropping at times. I couldn’t help but notice several interesting chord voiceings and it sounded to me like she might have ventured in to some open tunings. Stevens did not perform any guitar solos. She is not that kind of player, and her music did not lack anything because of that.

 

Liam Robinson was the man on keys. He also contributed backing vocals. He played a grand piano, electric keys and accordion depending on the song. Robinson adds a very melodic element to the fold. The accordion was a nice touch and Steven’s performance had me wondering if it was not also used as a midi controller due to some of the timbres I heard.

 

Jordan Perlson played drums. A very solid pocket guy, he did not over or underplay either. He was part of what I would consider a very solid rhythm section. I consider dynamics a huge part of performing and he led the musicians in that direction very well. He knew just when to pull back when the time called. The balance of sounds has a lot to do with the man behind the kit. A live band can’t really be any better than their drummer, and in this case, they have a solid one in Perlson. 

 

My favorite part of her band was bass player Chris Tordini. He also sang along with Stevens and even pitched in with some short lead vocal lines of his own. His style was very diverse. Pick and finger styles were used along with some almost classical guitar style right hand work. Tordini complimented the dynamic drums and never overpowered the vocals.

 

The City Winery has a great system. I am not sure if the person running the board was the house guy or not. The mix was flawless, very unlike a lot of the clubs I hear in Chicago were all you hear is the bass and drums. I don’t care to much for that. I like hearing the vocals myself. I was not disappointed.

 

Becca seemed to have quite a following at City Winery, as many people were singing along with her songs. I may need to dive into some more listening from her catalog. I also thought it was very cool that she did some work with a band I highly respect, Snarky Puppy. Talented people do seem to attract one another’s attention so I shouldn’t be all that surprised. The surprise to me was that Stevens was billed as some type of roots musician. I didn’t hear that at all. I found the songs to never really sound dated. I think that title should be dismissed. I don’t like categories anyway. That always narrows the focus of the artist and the mind of the listener. Music should expand your mind, and Becca Stevens is a fine example of that notion.

 

For more info on Becca Stevens visit http://www.beccastevens.com/.

 

To check out the upcoming schedule at City Winery, visit http://www.citywinery.com/chicago/

 

The Buffalo Theatre Ensemble brings a very thought provoking play to the stage. David Lindsay-Abaire penned this two-act performance and the small theatre was perfect for the story.

 

Finely directed by Connie Canaday Howard, Good People highlights a strong ensemble that exhibits a magical chemistry onstage. The story line was very well thought out and while I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, the theme, as one might guess from the title, was really about people. We are reminded in this story set mostly in the south end of Boston, that some are not as good as they appear and some are good without the appearance. 

 

The lead character Margaret is played by Amelia Barrett. She is a working class single mother with a child who lives in a cheap apartment, living paycheck to paycheck. Margaret and her friends love to play Bingo. They help each other out. That’s what friends are for. Her friends include her landlady Dottie, played by Annie Slavinski. Benedict L. Slabik II plays her former boss, who is also a friend. Jean played by Kelli Walker rounds out the Bingo crew.

 

They call themselves “Southies”, referring to the south end of Boston. Their accents are much different than the stereotypical Boston accent you might think of when thinking of that area. It is almost like comparing different English accents. They also call the upper-class people “Lace Curtains”, which I thought was funny.

 

Margaret runs into an old flame, Mike, played by Bryan Burke. He has done rather well for himself. Now an endocrinologist, he lives in a nicer area. He has joined the “Lace Curtains”, but he, like most people, never escapes his roots. His wife Kate is played by Raina Lynn. There is some controversy over the color of her skin. The play isn’t about racial tension but the topic exists in a sub-plot. In some ways, this underlying theme drives the story as much as its main plot.

 

The first act is light-hearted and funny. It is served more as an introduction to the characters, all of which appear in the first few minutes apart from Mike’s wife Kate. You see the world they live in and how they think.

 

Act II is another story, mostly set in the house of Mike and Kate. Good People shows us that things are not always as they appear and that class to which one is associated has nothing to do with that of being a good person. That’s the moral of the story and the message is there without looking too hard. 

 

The play is well-acted and thought out. The audience is never bored waiting for the plot to grow. It takes off from the start. Each acting performance is highly enjoyable as is the story and the message meaningful. I know a few “Good People” who could benefit from watching this performance. Art is a great teaching tool, even if the audience doesn’t always realize when it is happening. If you feel like you need a well-conceived night’s entertainment, this could be just the ticket. There are a few foul words in there, but clearly not meant to be offensive. This is a production that might just open your eyes a bit, while at the same time providing a few good laughs.

 

Good People is being performed at Playhouse Theatre in the McIninch Art Center in Glen Ellyn, IL through March 5th. For more show information click here

 

Expectations for what you might see in a concert are not always what turn out to be the reality of the situation. On my way to Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, I knew I was going to see two legendary guitar players in their respective fields. Let’s just say any preconceived notions I may have had regarding a strong showing by Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck were dismissed several times throughout this fine Sunday evening.

 

First, I assumed Buddy Guy would be opening for Jeff Beck. However, Beck took the stage first, opening with a track from his latest release Loud Hail. The song starts, vocals are heard, but no one on stage is singing. Then a woman dressed in what could be described as some kind of military uniform singing through a megaphone appears as she strolls down the aisle. She eventually gets on stage and joins the band. Now, this really wasn’t that strange for a Jeff Beck show. He has been dabbling in different genres most of his career.

 

Beck alternated between new album cuts and some of his classics like Freeway Jam. Somewhere around the fifth or sixth song a different vocalist appears and to the crowd’s approval, it was veteran Jimmy Hall who has worked with Jeff many times. Their performance of “Morning Dew” was highly inspiring and raised some goose bumps on Beck’s avid fans in attendance. “Morning Dew” was written during the turbulent 1960’s with a post apocalyptic theme. There seemed to be a bit of a theme during the show. I have always considered Jeff Beck to be a man of peace, and he conveyed this subtle message in his selections.

 

As for Beck’s guitar playing? Well, a musician in his league never disappoints in that department. Some people have claimed JB to be the best guitar player out there. Even though that I find that an impossible title to hold, he is certainly high on the list. Now here is a guy known for flashy guitar playing yet he doesn’t waste a note. We have had so many technically gifted guitar players come and go through the years, so what makes a guy like him so appealing? One word, melody. If someone claimed Jeff was the most melodic guitar player, I just might have to agree. Some say brilliant instrumentalists are often frustrated singers and when Beck plays, it is akin to a human voice. He doesn’t even use a pick anymore. This man’s music is what happens when you give someone an amazing ear uniquely interpreting each melody on a Stratocaster. Beck’s encore was his take on The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” to which he played the vocal lines on the guitar just like a singer. His voice is the guitar.

 

After Beck’s stirring set, I was sitting there thinking, “How is Buddy Guy gonna top that?” Buddy is Buddy, that’s what he is. He has been quoted as saying that’s all he can do is be himself. That’s just fine in my book. A true artist’s personality comes out in their art, no matter what the area. Guy is often manic but just so down to earth that you end up falling in love with the man before the show is over. He celebrated his 80th birthday just the day before. That’s correct, 80 years old! But Guy didn’t show his age and displayed the energy of a much younger man.

 

Guy’s attitude on stage is incredible. I have never met Buddy myself but have heard that off the stage he is a pretty shy guy. He’s just one of those artists whose true self only comes out when performing. Look out and be prepared as Guy’s shows are basically unscripted for the most part. He admitted he had no set list though his band was obviously prepared for what he was doing. His performance is almost like Buddy thinking out loud. He jumps from one thing to another.   

   

I consider Buddy to be one of the last real showmen of the Blues. His roots go back to Muddy Waters. Those old Blues cats always know how to entertain. Buddy used to do a trick back in the old club days where he would use a super long guitar cord and go out into the audience while playing. Now a wireless system makes things so much easier. Guy walked off the stage and kept going though a good portion of the pavilion at Ravinia, twice passing my way.

 

Guy was joined by Beck on one song and another featured two of his kids, one on vocals the other on guitar. The last portion of his show was Buddy teasing the audience playing just bits of a bunch of old Blues songs that weighed heavily as his musical influences. A true entertainer leaves the audience satisfied but wanting more. This was definitely the case.

 

Did Buddy Guy top Jeff Beck? Well, maybe not by his guitar playing alone. The performance actually made you forget the opening act while he was on stage. Like the title of his opening number, Buddy was “Born to Play the Guitar”. Jeff Beck was too, but Buddy was also born to entertain. At 80-years-old, won’t be performing forever, my advice being to see him while you still can. He is really one of the only living links to the old Blues cats left. After him, it’s mostly the English Blues players like Clapton. And who is Eric Clapton’s favorite guitar player? Buddy Guy. On July 31, 2016, Buddy Guy was mine was too.

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