Moments after B.B. King invited Sugar Ray Leonard to step forward from his front row seat and take a bow at Constitution Hall Saturday night, King and Bobby "Blue" Bland went back to work, this time with "The Thrill Is Gone." Bland caressed the lyric with a sultry bedroom whisper while King's guitar "Lucille" softly cooed. Suddenly, an ecstatic scream from someone in the audience punctured the mood. "Was that you, Sugar?" asked Bland. "No," said King. "That was the last dude he fought." And so the evening went, a night in which there was much to cheer and laugh about while listening to the cathartic blues of two modern masters.
As predictable as Bland's performances have become over the years, he still expresses great emotion, especially when his overamplified horn section is silenced and he's left virtually alone on something heartfelt like "Stormy Monday."
As for King, his bittersweet, arching solos, the sting of "Lucille's" vibrato, and King's own powerful declamatory vocals served him and his seven-piece band well as they moved back and forth from '40s jump band sounds to the clenched-fist intensity of the recent "Gotta Be a Better World Somewhere.