At 79 years old and after a career that has spanned more than five decades, Buddy Guy has surpassed being described as legendary or iconic. At this point, Buddy Guy is nothing short of a national treasure.
From coming up alongside all three Kings (B.B., Freddie, Albert) to inspiring an entire generation of bona fide guitar heroes (Beck, Hendrix, Clapton), Guy has managed to build a career that is laced with accolades many performers could never imagine. But perhaps the most incredible part of his journey? He’s still not done. Earlier this year, in fact, Guy released his latest album, “Born To Play Guitar,” which is No. 1 on the Billboard’s Top Blues Albums chart.
While his studio success speaks for itself, Buddy’s electrifying live performances have been the stuff of legend for years and on Saturday night at the inaugural Whitney Peak Presents: Live From The Arch performance, the almost-80-year-old bluesman did not disappoint. With a set list of hits and a band of incredible musicians, Guy pulled out all the stops.
Guy’s guitar playing pierced the Reno night air as soon as he stepped on stage and began to dig into his 1991 hit “Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues.” His tone, even after decades of subtle changes, is still vibrant and hard-nosed, his playing reckless and youthful. The fact that, in 2015, he can play the same way he did in the ’60s, without sounding antiquated, speaks volumes about his split role as both a trail-blazing guitarist and our last true link to traditional Chicago blues.
In his signature polka dot shirt and a baseball cap, Guy looked as comfortable onstage as one might expect from a seasoned performer, but it was with his ability to give the audience what they wanted that Guy defined the night. At one point he meandered through the crowd with his guitar, playing and singing for pockets of fans near the stage for nearly five minutes before returning to his position as the band leader.
His medley of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” stirred the crowd into a frenzy and his extended towel solo — that’s right, a towel solo — pulled laughter from the awestruck crowd while exemplifying just how tight his band was. Rhythm guitarist Ric Jaz stepped out front a handful of times to wow the crowd with his chops and give Guy a break from the soloing duties. His more modern style of playing contrasted well with Guy’s and always gave the tunes a necessary change of pace before stepping back in line with the sturdy bass playing (and dancing) of Orlando Wright.
Long time keyboardist Marty Sammon was also instrumental in preventing monotony as his chirping organ playing cut through the mix to offer a nice recess from screaming guitars.
Throughout the night, Guy sang with the same intensity as his guitar did and dug deep into his bag of tunes by playing Willie Dixon penned “I Just Want to Make Love To You” and even closing with Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing.” While it was odd that Guy didn’t play a single song off of his latest album, it could easily be attributed to his enormous repertoire and his desire as a showman to play his most crowd-pleasing set.
Guy was sharp and engaged on Saturday as he put on a show that blues lovers will surely cling to as proof that he was, indeed, born to play guitar.
G. Love & Special Sauce slides in
“Y’all ready for some hip-hop and blues?” G. Love asked as he stepped onto the stage. He was greeted with warm applause as he played slide guitar and rapped the chorus to Drake’s 2013 hit “Started From The Bottom.” G. Love’s combination of the two genres, coupled with his rigorous touring schedule, gain him popularity in many circles. His 1999 song “Cold Beverage” proved to be a highlight for many in attendance.
Todd Snider’s funny start
Todd Snider’s solo set was well-themed, as many songs were centered around being a member of the disenfranchised populace such as “Easy Money” and “Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White, American Male.” He also played an eye-rollingly crowd pleasing cover of “Folsom Prison Blues.” Snider did, however, finish strong with a poignant, if not a little cheesy, cover of “This Land Is Your Land.”
Morris Day & The Time (After-party at Cargo)
Even though it’s been 34 years since its first album was released, Morris Day & The Time still perform with the kind of fervor that can make Saturday’s after-party at Cargo feel like the main event. The repetitive, synthy, dance-pop hits such as “The Bird” and “Jungle Love” turned the Reno concert hall into a dance party.
Morris Day was electric as he put band members through the paces — yes, they did the Jungle Love dance and yes, it was awesome — while Jerome was every bit the confident sideman he was in Purple Rain. Legendary producer and multi-instrumentalist Jellybean Johnson moved the band along from the drumkit with the pounding rhythms of 1980s and ’90s funk/R&B.
The band’s performance clung to its funk roots and didn’t let go. It was a theatrical, unapologetic and genuine set of the music that made it famous.