What a source of resurgence the ‘90s have been for veteran Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy.
After a decade without a domestic release, the Louisiana-born singer-guitarist found a happy home at Silvertone Records, an indie label in New York. All three of his studio releases since 1991 earned Grammy awards, and the records combined have sold nearly 2 million copies.
In addition, the Rolling Stones picked Guy as the opening act for their 1994 tour. He now commands nearly $40 a ticket for performances in small clubs like the Coach House, where he and his four-piece band appeared Friday night.
With that kind of comeback for inspiration, how then did this show deteriorate into such an unlikely bore?
Too much clowning around, for starters. And, oddly enough, the erratic, ill-conceived set was lacking in full-length Buddy Guy songs. Instead, the full house was subjected to excessive teasing and impromptu noodling.
Guy repeatedly jammed while strolling through the audience (once was electrifying, twice was overdoing it), and he freely interspersed far too many momentum-killing snippets--just riffs, really--of songs by Bo Diddley, T-Bone Walker, Albert King, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton, Lightning Hopkins, Guitar Slim, etc.
Or as one disgruntled fan aptly put it about halfway through the nearly two-hour concert: “When are ya gonna play some Buddy Guy?”
Few others in the audience seemed to mind, though. Apparently delighted just to bask in the presence of the blues great, adoring fans lapped up his every move. When Buddy smiled, they cheered. When he grimaced, they cheered some more. When he asked, “Do you wanna hear the blues?” they roared louder still.
Such warm playfulness didn’t mask sometimes sloppy, haphazard playing. Guy would start a song promisingly enough. And the band would dig into a solid instrumental groove as he sang with a soulful edge, like during the first half of John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain.” But just as that mournful number neared its peak, keyboardist Tony Z and guitarist Scott Holt indulged in more vacuous soloing, and the song’s emotional impact was lost.
Not surprisingly, the evening ended on a sour note. Just as an explosive version of his own “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” started to cook--and only minutes after proclaiming, “We’re gonna play all night!"--Guy inexplicably said, “Good night, y’all!” and rambled off the stage and up the stairs to his dressing room.
The Friday performance recalled Guy’s disappointing concert two years ago at the Long Beach Blues Festival, where flash and style supplanted genuine feeling and a sense of purpose. He even used the same old lines to fire up the crowd: “We’re going to play so funky you can smell it.”
We know Guy, who turns 51 next month, has a trunkload of worthy material. So why mess with good songs?