Live: George Thorogood Lights Up B.B. King's
George Thorogood & The Destroyers w/Tom Hambridge & The Rattlesnakes
B.B. King Blues Club
Wednesday, August 8
Better than: Jack White.
The last time I was at B.B. King Blues Club in Times Square (right next to the Sanrio store, across from Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum), I saw Napalm Death. From the early 2000s to about 2008-2009, it was home to a lot of great metal shows. But in recent years, they've put carpet and tables on the floor, and tilted their bookings in favor of rock and soul veterans, plus a lot of tribute bands. This week, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, who are sort of a combination of the two, came through for two nights, packing the place with middle-aged couples out for dinner and a nice show. (There were some people under 40 present, too, but they were a minority.)
Well, Thorogood definitely knows how to put on a show. Still burly at 62, he's got a broad grin and one of the dirtiest laughs in rock 'n' roll, and he seems to be having a blast every minute he's onstage. His between-song (and mid-song) patter is old-school showbiz vulgarity; he flirts with women in the audience in a self-mocking way ("Don't talk about me over there, ladies; you know how sensitive I am"), grinds his hips while playing guitar, etc. He's a lot of fun to watch, but he's even more of a pleasure to listen to.
See, Thorogood is a serious guitar player with a kick-ass backing band; some of its members have been with him for decades. (Same bassist since 1977; same drummer since 1973.) Of course, none of his licks are particularly original, a fact he'll cop to without blinking. His thing is dragging 1950s Chicago blues into '70s rock, playing a big Gibson ES-125 with a tone that's half Hubert Sumlin and half Ted Nugent. His sets, like his albums, are mostly composed of covers, but even the originals are hard to pick out. He opened with a nearly eight-minute, blasting version of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller," and followed that with one of his big early radio hits, a take on Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love" that, live, carried a lot more menace than the studio version, which is currently advertising Sam Adams beer. There was a substance-abuse theme to the set's first third; "I Drink Alone" led straight into "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer," which was followed by a version of Johnny Cash's "Cocaine Blues." This, in turn, led into the only new (as in, newly recorded by Thorogood) song of the night, Willie Dixon's "Seventh Son," from the 2011 album 2120 South Michigan Ave., a collection of songs associated with Chess Records in Chicago. There were a few Easter eggs tossed into the songs; a version of "Night Time" included a bit of "Train Kept A'Rollin'" in the guitar solo, and the bassist played a chunk of Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun," beneath storms of feedback from Thorogood, to introduce "I Drink Alone."
The fact that Thorogood happened to luck into a permanently lifestyle-sustaining hit with 1982's "Bad to the Bone" (which was tucked into the set's second half) has probably been detrimental to his artistic reputation in certain circles. Were he more widely known as what he isa hard-touring, ferociously aggressive blues guitarist with a band that knows how to make a rock backbeat swing...well, never mind. Based on the rapturous response of the drink-hoisting, chorus-bellowing ladies and gentlemen at BB King's, he can stay on the road until he drops without ever making another album, and judging by the look on his face as he tore through one scorching number after another (not to mention numerous quotes in multiple interviews over the last decade or so), that would probably be fine with him. When you're good enough at what you do, artistic growth is overrated.
The opening act, Tom Hambridge and the Rattlesnakes, did a similar if lower-intensity blues-rock thing, livened up by the fact that Hambridge plays a snare and cymbal as he sings (there's no other drummer). He's a professional songwriter who's written for Thorogood, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many other acts, so when he performs Buddy Guy's "Living Proof" or Gretchen Wilson's "I Got Your Country Right Here," it's because they're actually his songs.
Critical bias: I've been a Thorogood fan for over 25 years, and/but had never seen him live.
Random notebook dump: The headliners' pre-show music? Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction." I laughed.
Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller
Who Do You Love
I Drink Alone
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer
Get a Haircut
Bad to the Bone
Move It On Over
You Talk Too Much