Last night when the notes started flying from Lucille, B. B. King's guitar, it seemed that everyone in the overflowing, oversold Howard Theater leaned forward six inches. A bit older and rounder than when he started in Memphis 33 years ago, King still stung the guitar strings. Finally he slung Lucille under one arm and bellowed warmly: "Let the good times roll!" And they did.

King can still squeeze more tones out of a single note and run more notes into a single phrase than any of his many imitators. He played "Three O'Clock Blues," which first brought him to the Howard in 1952, as well as several tunes from his recent record with The Crusaders. Even on songs they've played literally thousands of times, King and Lucille sounded as fresh and saucy as brand new lovers.

By contrast, Bobby "Blue" Bland seemed a bit tired in the opening set. Bland, a King protege and a rhythm and blues star in his own right, hit a few high points on "I intend to Take Your Place" and "Stormy Monday," where he purred seductively and crackled lustfully. But for most of the night, he coasted through one cheating ballad after another.