Photo courtesy of Jag Gundu / Massey Hall
“If you don’t like the blues, you shouldn’t have showed up here tonight.” Buddy Guy speaks plainly, and there is truth in every word. The blues guitar legend headlined Toronto’s historic Massey Hall for the 13th time on Saturday night and what a night it was!
Guy kicked off the night with Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues, but for a man professing to be blues-stricken, he sure seemed to be having fun. At 80, Guy is full of energy and sass. With the very first song, he left no doubt as to his capabilities as a guitarist. Time has not diminished his game and there’s a twinkle in his eye and a cheekiness to his performance that belies his age.
Guy, a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, commented that commercial radio no longer plays the blues, and perhaps in an effort to bring the blues to a younger generation, he provided free tickets to over 150 young locals. Throughout the night, Guy talked about the artists that influenced him, as well as the ones who claim to be influenced by him. His list of dropped names was impressive, from John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters to Eric Clapton. By drawing the links between the guitarists from his youth to latter day virtuosos, he made his case: no matter what kind of music you like, it’s all connected. He clearly has a lot of affection for Toronto, referring several times to the fact that he first played here in 1967 at the Mariposa Folk Festival. That gig changed the course of his life, said Guy, “after that, I never did drive a tow truck no more,” a comment that yielded cheers from the audience. Guy spoke of his childhood in rural Louisiana making it clear that the blues is more than his music – it’s his life. Clearly the blues can be heavy, but there is joy in it.
Guy and his band made a meal of Hoochie Coochie Man, teasing the audience for missing their cue on the chorus. He slowed down the pace for a beautiful rendition of Feels Like Rain that allowed the audience to prove that they could, indeed hit their cues. In the background, Guy’s band rocked, and he allowed them time to shine. His frequent producer, Tom Hambridge, who opened the show, also joined the band on stage at points.
The night was full of blues gems, but the highlight was Slippin’ In. In the midst of a rollicking jam, Guy descended a set of steps at the front of the stage. He took his time making his way up the aisle, winking at fans and flirting a little along the way. He wailed and sang all the way to the back. The people in the upper levels stood to gain a peek. Guy, with several security guards as a posse, proceeded to rock out all the way into the lobby and wend his way back around to the side aisle. All of Massey Hall was on its feet which is exactly where he wanted them.
Guy played out the set with style and left the stage having given the audience what they wanted. No audience could ask for any more than that.