Bangor got the blues Monday night, but that ain’t bad.
“The King of the Blues,” B.B. King, was in town, heating up the Bangor Auditorium on a frigid night.
King, 72, provided spirited versions of songs from throughout his 50-year career, including such hits as “The Thrill is Gone,” “How Blue Can You Get” and “Why I Sing the Blues.”
But it was King the showman, resplendent in white shirt, black pants and sequined silver jacket, who really sparkled for the Maine crowd.
King displayed why he is a blues legend, showering the enthusiastic audience with note after note from his guitar, Lucille. At the same time, emotions flashed across his contorted face, as it almost seemed that he was singing along during his many guitar solos.
Blues Boy King generously shared the spotlight with the talented B.B. King Blues Band, under the direction of James Boldon. Each of the group’s eight members got his chance to solo and show off their ample musical skills. Standouts were James Tillman on keyboard, Melvin Jackson on saxophone and Leon Wright on guitar. Toward the end of each solo, King would have his hands up to his ears, soliciting applause from the very willing crowd.
King was also accessible to his fans. During “Darling, You Know I Love You,” he invited the young children in the crowd to the stage, giving them guitar picks and shaking hands. Near the show’s end, “The Thrill is Gone” stretched out for seemingly 20 minutes, as King shook hands, gave out picks and signed books, posters and even a guitar while others danced in front of the stage.
King and his band made the blues seem like a lot of fun throughout the one-hour, 45-minute set, which left the standing crowd buzzing and applauding.
Opening for King was veteran bluesman Chris Smither.
Smither, a High-Tone recording artist, offered a study in contrast with King. He was alone, armed only with his blue guitar, tapping out percussion with his feet while singing the blues in his own emotional way.
The concert started 10 minutes late, then Smither was further delayed by a sound problem. Smither kept the audience entertained while the problem was being addressed, noting “Patience is a virtue.”
During his eight-song, 40-minute set, Smither served up a generous helping of his originals, including “I Can Love You Like a Man.” After that song, he noted, “I wrote that when I was 21. Now I get tired just singing it.”
He also offered his unique versions of Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom” and Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues.” Smither showed why he was considered one of the up-and-coming artists of the ’60s folk scene, before he got sidetracked by personal problems. He sounds like he’s back to stay now.