It's time everyone!
Last week I posted that we would have a surprise guest review for the BB King show in Lebanon, and boy did he deliver!
My friend and fellow bassist of the Jelly Shot band in Kuwait, Mubarak Jamal, was lucky enough to go and see the blues legend BB King in my home country of Lebanon, at the Byblos (Jbeil) International Festival.
So without further ado, I'm gonna let the lucky basta... uhhh I mean Mubarak tell us, in fine detail, how it all went down!
Review after the jump!
Well, well, where to start? First off, I simply HAVE to discuss what Byblos was like. The only way I can is by saying that I can't. People NEED to go there and experience the area. It's practically second to none in terms of history, and I for one love history. Beautiful scenery, a historical monument and better yet, a beautiful view of the ocean. That last bit is a must, because the seats of the event were right ABOVE the ocean, which was simply awesome. So much history in that one place. You, the reader, have to go and witness it if you appreciate history as much as I do.
Of course, I went there for the Byblos International Festival which on Thursday, June 5th 2012 hosted what I believe was the first and to date, only performance of living blues legend, B.B. King in the region. It was a huge deal, so I had to be there. The setting was brilliant. The stage was set to stand directing in front of a large cliff which carried the Crusaders' Citadel in Byblos in the background, and the seats (yes, it was a seated show) were directly on top of the ocean, as I mentioned earlier. Going into the show, I had my worries considering that B.B. King was in fact 86 years old, so obviously there was doubt about whether he could perform as good as is known to be.
As expected, come show time, it was packed! I have to admit, I was pretty excited at the fact that I was going to see a living legend before my very eyes. Not the first time, but definitely something big! The show starts off with the King's backup band playing a few instrumentals, to which I noticed carried a lot of jazz influence. Each member (4-piece horn section, bassist, pianist and incredible drummer) had his fair share of time to showcase his talents. I think they were a fantastic group alone and definitely showcased their respect talents to a very, very supportive crowd. Gotta mention, the sound was fantastic. Then again, it is a pro setting so obviously it would've sounded fantastic! Finally, the King was introduced and the reaction he received was eardrum shattering! I was speechless and couldn't really cheer loudly or whatnot, I was just stunned in place because right there, the living legend himself, one of the last true blues greats comes walking out. It was awesome! The King had to be helped to his comfy looking throne however, but again the age comes into play here. He starts off with two great renditions of the blues standard, "Key To The Highway" and the Muddy Water's classic, "Rock Me Baby". Interesting fact: he got tired or something during "Rock Me Baby". From the distance, I couldn't really tell but the musicians had to carry the song with a number of solos until the King was ready to make a comeback. Somebody said he threw up, but again I couldn't tell. He did mention he was sick a few days prior, so maybe. Eventually, he finishes the song and even does a little dance in his seat, which I thought was funny.
For some reason, the next song sounded like a reprisal of "Key To The Highway". I don't know why, but I'll let that slip. Afterwards, the band goes into one of my personal favorites, a cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "One Kind Favor". It was a good version of the old tune, but it showed in King's playing that while he can still perfect his legendary tone and style, he really doesn't have the energy to do the same again, which was a bit sad but alas, back to the review. Now comes the fun part, because everybody should know this song. It goes by the title of "How Blue Can You Get?". I jumped in my seat when he started it, because for some reason I didn't think the band would play it. Guess I shouldn't doubt one of the three Kings of the Blues. The song however, was deliberately cut short. It included the first verse and then cut to the bridge towards the end of the song. I guess it was shortened so that King wouldn't get too tired. What came next was the biggest shocker for me. I believe that King felt bad about not perfecting "Rock Me Baby", so the entire tune was played again, this time in its entirety. My friends and I were a bit confused but we didn't really mind, because it was such a good performance. If memory serves me correctly, I think it was King's finest performance that night, because as I said, it was such a good song!
Now comes the final few songs, and what better way to start off that batch with the one song that everybody knows? Of course, I'm talking about "The Thrill Is Gone". While I'm not the BIGGEST fan of the song, I do appreciate it as much as the B.B. King fan reading this. A part of me was wishing for Tracy Chapman to randomly pop up on stage and join the King on this; their version on King's "Deuces Wild" album was perfectly done. I think the crowd enjoyed this song the most purely because its B.B. King's most well-know song, as far as I know. Again, I can tell that the King was getting tired, so naturally he didn't play much on Lucille, but then again his solos were always peaceful, to say the least. I think by now, the backup band had to take center stage in order to give the King a much needed break but again, when you're 86 and playing shows every few days, it does get tiring! So the band ends up playing "You Are My Sunshine", to which the entire venue starts singing along as King sits and watches on. To be honest, I was in a "WTF?" state because this was just so random and I think I was the only person who didn't know the words to that song, with good reason too! Though the King did crack a few jokes every now and then about kissing girls and stuff, and some other random bits throughout the night. Moving on, the next track is a new one for me. Its called "Guess Who?" and I'm not exactly familiar with the song but I remember it as a beautiful slow ballad and I do remember rocking my head back and forth to it, so I'll have to check it out later on. Here's another random treat, they end up playing an instrumental version of "When the Saints…" Again, I was a total loss because I really did not expect that to occur, but I feel that the King really was tired because he did mention it a few times and also mentioned that was sick recently, so yeah. The show ends with the band going back to "Guess Who?" and it ends with a verse or so, closing the show. By the end of it, thousands were up in front of the King. They started piling down during the start of the first time he "Guess Who?" initially, which was led by one girl, then two and so on. It was weird for me but Hell, I ain't complainin'! I saw the King live and I'm happy about that!
And with that, ends the review. Was I happy with the overall experience? Yes, I was. A lot. It was a wonderful trip and well worth it because to this day, I never believed that I would have seen B.B. King play live and I still don't believe that I did! That doesn't help, I know. However, there were plenty of negatives. A lot of the random bits and bops did absolutely nothing for me but waste time. I understand why they were done, and that I cannot argue with. King's playing wasn't the best and he was carried by a wonderful backup band that in my eyes, stole the show. However, I will not state that the event was disappointing. For a previously sick 86 year old, B.B. King did more than anybody his age would have done and one cannot argue the commitment he had for us, the fans who were there to watch him. He was sick prior and could have cancelled, but he didn't and you have to respect him for that. He did the best he could, and he delivered the only way an 86 year old man could. All in all, it was a wonderful night and nothing can ever change the fact that the living legend, B.B. King made his Middle Eastern happy and if given the chance again, I would honestly go watch him perform live again. I mean, he left the show with a blues hat and an old leather coat! That alone was just as awesome for me, haha!
So with that, I conclude this review of the B.B. King show at the Byblos International Festival in Byblos, Lebanon. I hope to attend more of these festivals in the near future and write more reviews, come rain or come shine.
Thanks for reading!
~ Mubarak Jamal