As much of a cliché as it may be, it is very easy to take someone (or something) for granted while it is readily available, and then when it leaves us it is a great tragedy. And while the passing of B.B. King would be a justifiable tragedy, to see the awards and praises heaped upon the blues guitarist and his work are amazing. While he does not do it as much as he did before, the fact that he manages to frequently tour for a man in his mid-80s and put together entertaining shows is a testament to how special he is.
A case in point may be his June 28, 2011 concert where he performed at London's Royal Albert Hall. Five years after a so-called 'farewell tour' of Europe, King has not only been back several times since the 2006 news, but the London concert was kicking off yet another tour. The concert included appearances by guitarists Slash and Ron Wood, and accompanied by Susan Tedeschi and husband (and guitar player) Derek Trucks. Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall provided guest work on vocals as well for the 75-minute long set, which includes the following songs:
"I Need You So"
"Key To The Highway"
"See That My Grave Is Kept Clean"
"All Over Again"
"Rock Me Baby"
"You Are My Sunshine"
Jam with Guests
"The Thrill Is Gone"
"When The Saints Go Marching In"
To get something out of the way, King may be getting up there in age and health, but neither are large impedances to his performing. Handlers occasionally point stage direction to him as he walks on, and they help make sure the same thing occurs when he leaves the stage. And when he and his trusty guitar 'Lucille' are on stage, the songs are performed at King's leisure, without being a detriment to the performer or the music. King plays the hits and does them at his own pace (the particular slower pace of 'Sunshine' and 'Rock Me' are notable if one is not familiar with how King does them), but there is a underlying sense of self-awareness from King in the set. With songs like 'See That My Grave' and the set's finale 'When the Saints,' there is a slight chill that the viewer may experience, similar to listening to Johnny Cash's "American VI" album. King is enjoying the ride his 85 years have brought, and the concert reflects this.
Along with the tone of the songs and performance, the guests are also enjoying the life and on this particular night, the ride that has brought them to this spot. Tedeschi's vocals sound fantastic on 'Rock Me Baby,' and King's on-stage flirtation with her crooning mannerisms is charming and engaging. Slash and Wood are not troubadours by any means, but they have experienced some of the same living King has and they help provide their own individual contributions (along with Hucknall's underrated vocals) that make for a memorable night.
All in all, for his first performance in the vaunted performance venue, B.B. King Live at the Royal Albert Hall is another gem in the crown of what may possibly be America's greatest living musician. Whether it is with a who's who of guitarists or by himself, if B.B. King is performing near you, you owe it to yourself to see one of the greats in his art do what he does best.
The show is presented in an AVC-encoded 1.78:1 presentation (in 1080i) consistent with similar Blu-ray concert discs. From a shot perspective, the multiple-camera effort seems to miss some moments to King's left and right, almost as if the production crew wasn't expecting guest stars or something. But the disc replicates the concert effort adequately, with the image looking clean and free of DNR or image enhancement. There are occasional moments of crushing and image noise, but this appears to be inherent in the source material, and not really distracting from the viewing experience.
You can go with either a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track or a PCM 2.0 one. Either sound option will be more than adequate, though suffice to say the lossless six-channel track possesses a broader sound stage, with more immersion from crowd noises and ambient effects, and more nuances bass tones during the songs. The performers sound clear both when singing and speaking, and
Save for interviews with King and the guest stars he performed with (20:33), not a whole lot, though the interviews cover thoughts on King from said musicians and his thoughts on each of them, along with some moments from King on his origins and inspirations..
Live at the Royal Albert Hall proves to be a pleasant concert with nice surprises, and at its core is an expert musician and performer doing his standards and doing well by them. Technically the disc looks and sounds strong, and despite its lack of supplements, is definitely worth seeking out for fans of music or those looking for a change of pace of their normal audio indulgences.