When I saw Buddy Guy at a Harrisburg, PA gig last year, I had only one regret. There wasn’t a good live CD to take home as a souvenir of the magic we all experienced that night. A year later, while it has its moments, Guy’s new Live at Legends still isn’t the concert album I craved.
For one important matter, Live at Legends is a rather short live set on an album beefed up by three studio tracks. True, Live at Legends is a slice of blues history as it draws from his last performances at his now defunct Legends Club recorded in Chicago in January 2010. But, while not the first concert recorded at Legends (Last Time Around–Live at Legends, with Guy and Junior Welles, came out in 1998), this set seems almost amateurish in its production.
This isn’t a criticism of the playing by Guy or his stellar backup band. Rather, the engineering is simply sloppy. This is most noticeable in the quiet sections where Guy’s vocals virtually disappear. Perhaps this is the reason only a few numbers were officially released as others couldn’t be salvaged?
Still, Buddy Guy remains a giant icon bridging, as he chronicles in his “Who’s Going to Fill Those Shoes?”, the post-World War II Chicago Chess sessions through the blues renaissance of the ’60s through the Texas wizardry of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Sadly, that 2008 song isn’t on this release, but the range of influences and styles Guy is master of are all demonstrated to one degree or another.
Live at Legends opens with two warm-up numbers apparently from different nights as the guitar sound isn’t dynamically the same or in the same speakers. “Best Damn Fool” has Buddy hot on the left side, the workmanlike “Mannish Boy” has him toned down on the right. His nod to Muddy Waters continues with a fine rendition of “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” where Guy begins to have fun with the audience by admitting he’s likely to make up his own words. This is a nightclub after all, so the monologues are sometimes salty and the ambiance is intimate and close.
After this round of playfulness, Guy offers his own and far more serious “Skin Deep” where he shows off some of his more reflective lyrics along with some atypical higher-range soulful singing. Then we get a perfect example of just what Guy can do at his best as he soars on his signature song, “Damn Right I Got the Blues.” Here, he not only goes offstage to include audience members in his show but just burns the house down with his guitar.
The final four live songs are essentially a history lesson in blues rock, the British blues in particular. Guy provides short intros to two medleys, “Boom Boom/Strange Brew” and “Voodoo Chile/Sunshine Of Your Love.” Both are really teasers and not as developed as you’d hope. Soon as the ride begins, it’s over.
Realizing just how thin the offering added up to, someone dug into the vaults and came up with three previously unreleased tracks from Guy’s Living Proof sessions. While there’s nothing remarkable about them, if you love the down-and-dirty blues, then “Polka Dot Love,” “Coming For You,” and “Country Boy” are for you.
The collection ends up feeling like a grab bag collection with live tracks cobbled together from what was lying around along with a few leftover throwaways tacked on. Still, if you’re a Guy fan, there’s more than enough here to make this a worthwhile addition to your library. The guitar playing can’t be matched by anybody, and Guy is one of the few bluesmen who is as good behind the mic as he is on his axe. If you want to introduce someone to Buddy Guy, this isn’t the record to play start to finish, but there are a few choice cuts to, as Willie Dixon once said, heal the sick, raise the dead, and make the little girls talk out of their heads.