ALBANY — It took a while for the 88-year-old B.B. King to enter the stage at the Palace Thursday night after the show started. His eight-man band took the stage without him and started playing a strong boogie-woogie rhythm. Then the four horns, keyboard and guitarist each took solos while the rhythm section bounced underneath.
Next came a short, slow blues. Everyone waited for King’s entrance, coaxing and cheering. Then, after 20-plus minutes, before it became too awkward, the lights came on, the fans rose out of their seats, and out came the still dapper King, slowly, step by step, until he reached his seat on center stage.
For the next 10 minutes, before playing a note, he sat, surveyed the audience, fed on their energy, talked a little, then introduced each member of the band. Thirty-minutes into the set, he finally sang, opening with “I Need You So,” a quintessential B.B. King tune, which he dedicated to “the lovers in the audience.” His voice was solid and landed the notes with ease.
The band followed with a smooth Chicago-shuffle, King playing a verse on his guitar — his unique, unmatched sound — before handing it off to the keyboards. He floated a few riffs during the other instrument solos, then took over again, sketching his ideas with a few spare notes that somehow communicate his ideas in full. He is wonderfully simple in his picking and singing, something he has mastered over 60-plus years, with a style no one uses today. King didn’t play chords with the rhythm section during the horn solos — he never really does. Instead he accompanied the solos with single notes.
He played the low-key, swinging “You Are My Sunshine,” immediately recognizable from his clean, lyrical guitar playing.
Then came the required “The Thrill Is Gone.” The horn section punched sharply here — these were not young guys — while King threw out some quick, bending notes as others took solos. He only sang two verses; it would have been nice to hear more of this song.
His solo for the first two rounds of the next song — an instrumental sounding like “The Brightest Smile in Town” — was the best one of the night.
The blues shuffle “Rock Me Baby” followed, and his voice sounded good here. King started “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother,” then moved into “I’ve Been Down-Hearted,” to close the show.
At this point he said good night, the house lights went on, his handlers came to move him from the chair, the audience started streaming out. But King stayed, chatting from his seat and entertaining the remainder of the crowd. He held a genuine conversation, sharing the microphone with a young boy he asked to join him on stage, apparently blind. It was a moving moment, and a fitting end to the night.
B.B. King, after 15,000 concerts (according to some reported counts), was not ready to leave the stage just yet.
Local blues guitarist Rhett Tyler opened the show, a sharp contrast to King’s set. Tyler played a quick 30-minute set that packed in a near-full concert with just three 10-minute songs.
His trio rocked for the opener, than followed with a slow blues, where Tyler showed us the speed of his chops and range of styles. And then they closed with a long, unhinged “Crossroads,” the song where it all began, when B.B. King was a tween.
Tyler played it differently than any interpretation out there, a hard thing to do given the amount of people who cover it, and exactly what blues players should try to do. Tyler is a great act and likely blew away King fans who had never seen him before.