Blues concert is a tale of two Guys

Posted: February 28, 2002

Two Buddy Guys shared the Keswick Theatre stage Tuesday night. Both wore overalls, a plaid work shirt, and sneakers, grinned luridly, and wrenched live-wire solos out of a gloriously tacky, black-and-white polka-dot guitar.

But while one - the blues maverick, whose high-energy performances have long been the stuff of legend - made an admirable showing, the night was dominated by his underwhelming double.

For most of his distended set, the 65-year-old Guy enacted a ritual that was affirming, rather than genuinely moving. His constant proclamations that he "sure felt like singing the blues" were almost didactic. Likewise, his impersonation of Muddy Waters, whose gravitas is nearly the polar opposite of Guy's hyper-thyroidal personality, couldn't help but lapse into camp.

At times, it seemed as if the bluesman was mocking the audience, as when he delivered an impish version of Cream's "Strange Brew." But when he torpedoed an otherwise gorgeous version of his Impressions-esque "Feels Like Rain" with a comical melisma, or allowed multiple children to play his guitar during one of his trademark strolls through the audience, it was as if he were parodying himself. Guy is a musician of extremes; when reduced to a formula, the result borders on grotesque.

Thankfully, this blues variety show was occasionally interrupted by several minutes of Guy at his very best. The roaring, relentless "Look What All You Got" validated, much more effectively than any number of extraneous covers, Guy's claim to being the missing link between Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix. And on "Drowning on Dry Land," a tune he attributed to Albert King and soul man O. V. Wright, Guy moved effortlessly between fury and finesse.

That is, before he handed his guitar over to the audience members.

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