Buddy Guy is part of the second generation of Chicago-based electric-powered blues musicians, the ones who followed in the footsteps of Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Howling Wolf. Some of his contemporaries, like Magic Slim and Guy’s longtime friend and occasional partner Junior Wells, have passed on as well.
The man who began his career as a sideman before creating solo albums that featured now-classic songs like “Stone Crazy,” “A Man and the Blues,” “When My Left Eye Jumps,” and a twisted version of “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” reached elder statesman status a few years back, but that hasn’t stopped him from pressing forward.
Based upon his stage presence Tuesday night, he certainly doesn’t act like he’s ready to rest on the past. What’s amazing is that for a person born back in 1936, Guy’s unbridled passion for playing the guitar still burns bright and his physical abilities don’t appear to have deteriorated much, if at all.
While other giants of the art (B.B. King and Bobby “Blue” Bland come to mind) walk onto the stage and sit down to perform, Guy paces the stage with the energy of a man decades younger; his hands roam the fret board while his fingers pick the strings with speed and power. Then, just as he’s built up a head of steam, Guy shows that he has the ability to stop on a dime and make a point.
He is a masterful musician and an artist who controls the audience with skill and grace but with a little bit of acid tossed in for those who would interrupt his act. This was the case at the beginning of Tuesday night’s show, when some folks kept hollering from the audience, disrupting the flow of Guy’s performance just after “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues” and during the opening moments of “Hoochy Coochy Man” when audience members joined in the song’s chorus with the wrong lyrics. The text of his brief speech included some pointed profanity and delivered the message that fun was fun but don’t disturb a man when he’s working. The crowd loved it.
Guy picked up where he left off, coaxing his guitar into a few whispered moments before launching it into a full-throated roar, guiding his band of talented musicians through their paces. Throughout the show, bursts of air guitar playing broke out as some folks in the audience obviously felt moved by the spirit of the music (and Guy’s ferocious playing) to act out their emotions.
Jonny Lang opened up the show, much as he’s done for many Buddy Guy concerts. There’s a certain respect between the older master and the younger acolyte that causes them to join together on tour more frequently than not.
Lang is a talented guitarist, blues-based in general although with an approach that leans more towards high-powered rock licks.
He has some vocal chops as well, but they seem to edge more towards controlled hysteria with a bit of decent falsetto given a prominent role.
Because he’s come to Western New York a fair amount over the years, the personable Lang has developed a pretty solid fan base here, one that eggs him on and rewards him for his efforts. Pockets of people shouted out encouragement as he whipped his way through “Angel of Mercy,” “Red Light,” a decent cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” and the gospel-inflected “That Great Day.”
As the sounds from his lengthy opening set faded, the audience gave Lang and his quartet a standing ovation. .