I've been to two concerts this week: on Thursday, I worked security at Tingley Colliseum for Metallica's Death Metallic tour (you know they put out a new album, right? They had to make up for St Anger somehow...), and then, last night, I actually went to a concert as an audience member, for B.B. King's One Kind Favor tour.
(I don't know what I should call my daughter in this format - Nicole? Jane? So I'm just going to call her Fred.)
Anyway, Fred bought me tickets to B.B. King for my birthday, because apparently she loves me more than the rest of my family put together. (She's now officially my favorite daughter. Not that the bar is particularly high in that area, but still...)
The two concerts were complete opposites of each other.
Metallica had two opening acts, Down and The Sword. It's a shame about them. I wouldn't say that either one sucked more than the other one - they were about equal. I'm sure that there are people out there who like them; I just wasn't impressed.
Sword has released two albums and gets called crap like "doom metal." One of their songs ("Freya") was covered in Guitar Hero II, (what, one of the most popular video game franchises in America couldn't afford the original band? You take that as a loss leader, guys, just for the extra advertising); they get compared to early Black Sabbath a lot, and that might be relatively true. They put a lot of Norse mythology in their songs, which would be cool, if I was still 17 and playing D&D.
Down has been around for almost 20 years now. You'd think they'd be better. After three albums, with a group made up of former members from all over the heavy metal scene, it would be nice if these guys didn't sound like every other metal band out there.
Metallica, however, did their usual incredible job. I was posted at the top of the colliseum, guarding a bunch of doors that led backstage, and for once, I had a perfect view of the stage. Tingley is built so you can see from anywhere, and my perch looked right down on everything.
Tingley also has the usual crappy plastic chairs, except for the cheap seats, which are plain wooden benches with numbers painted on them (to show what piece of real estate you paid to plant your butt on). I was right above the cheap seats, but like I said, there really aren't any bad seats for a view in Tingley - you have to admire the builders for that.
I had earplugs (you have to if you're going to a concert every week, unless you want to go deaf - and then I couldn't hear the bands, and what would be the point of working security? It isn't like they pay me that much), and I was up against the back wall, and I could still feel the music in my bones. The walls were literally vibrating - whenever I leaned back, I could feel the steel putting out sympathetic vibrations. And Metallica was down there on stage kicking ass: they had lasers, they had these huge, coffin-shaped light setups hanging above the stage, and they had a bank of flame jets under the floor (and you could feel the heat all the way back where I was when those went off).
The crowd was the usual tats-and-piercings metal crowd, mostly drunk (or otherwise chemically-enhanced): there was a group of four chubby drunks near me who insisted on waving their arms around - I was told that they hit a couple of the people around them, so I had to warn them that they were going to get kicked out if it happened again. But they'd pretty much worn themselves out on the opening acts; two of them disappeared, and the other two fell asleep on the benches during Metallica's set. (And how the hell do you sleep through Metallica? Hetfield should have them kicked out of the fan club or something...)
Kids these days - no endurance. You have to learn to pace yourself.
But then last night, my son and I went to the Route 66 Casino to see B.B. King. Now, to get to the casino, you get on the highway and drive west. Then, when you think that you've gone too far, you drive a little farther west. Mapquest thinks it's about five miles out of town, because Mapquest is kind of stupid sometimes. About four miles away from the casino, you can see it. And last night, about two miles away from the casino, we got in line with all the other cars, and crept along the shoulder of the road at between five and 15 miles an hour, until we gradually pulled up to the casino.
Here's a hint - if you're going to a reasonably popular concert at Route 66, there's a frontage road about thirty yards away from the highway, and the guys on that do full speed. Plus, the exit from the highway at the casino empties on that very same frontage road after a stop sign; so, when you take the frontage road, you miss all the traffic, you have the right of way, and you get to feel all superior to the fools on the highway. There's all kinds of benefits to figuring out which exit would get you to that chunk of pavement - maybe someday I'll figure that one out.
Here's how the concert last night was different from every other concert I've been to recently.
First, nobody got searched going in; apparently, the B.B. King crowd isn't likely to pull knives and start cutting each other. Then there's the chairs - instead of crappy plastic stadium seats or benches, you've got stuffed, comfortable chairs wide enough for a chubby gambler to have plenty of room for his doublewide ass cheeks. The temperature was comfortable, the sound quality was great, and it was just generally the right way to see a show.
Now, B.B. travels with his band (called, weirdly enough, the "B.B. King Blues Band") and they're just awe-inspiring. They came out on stage first: bass guitar, keyboardist, drummer, guitarist, and a three-man horn section (the trumpeter was also the band leader). They were as close to an opening act as Mr. King has - hey, at 83, you don't want to be up until midnight. (Hell, at half his age, I can understand the feeling...) They played a song or two, and then B.B. took the stage.
The first thing you notice is the jacket. Everybody on stage was wearing black tuxedos, but B.B. had a silver snake-skin suit coat to go with his. But at 83, battling diabetes and bad knees, I guess he can dress however he wants to.
I have to admit, I was a little worried at first. With the horn section and everybody, it sounded kind of like his band might be covering for him. And the other guitarist had a very similar playing style. But then, after a bunch of songs (including a tarted-up version of "When Love Comes To Town" that he did with U2), the horns left the stage, and they did the second set. And that's where B.B. let Lucille really cut loose.
(Lucille, in case you don't know, is the name of B.B.'s guitar. During the 1950's, B.B. was playing a show where two men got in a fight, knocked over a kerosene stove, and set fire to the place. B.B. realized that he'd left his guitar inside, and ran back into the burning building to get it. "Lucille," it turned out, was the name of the woman the men had been fighting over. Since then, B.B. has named every one of his guitars Lucille, to remind him never to fight over a woman.)
The show was a lot more relaxed than, say, a Metallica concert. B.B. sat up there on stage cracking jokes, telling stories, and playing some of the most amazing blues music in the world. He did all of his old songs, he did some old blues standards, and he even threw in an extended audience singalong to "You Are My Sunshine." And he did stuff off his new album; at one point, he explained that his children didn't like the title of his new album, which is taken from an old Blind Lemon Jefferson song that he covers in it: "One kind favor that I'll ask of you: see that my grave is kept clean."
I don't know how many years B.B. has left, but his playing is still sharp. I'm damned grateful I got the chance to see him this year.