B.B. King's, NYC
March, 4, 2018
By Ray Chelstowski
B.B. King’s in Times Square is like any music club in America. Some acts pack the house; other bookings just barely cover the electric bill for the night. So I guess I wasn’t really prepared for what I was about to witness on a cold Sunday evening in March, a night that by any measure would tend to be a little light for BB’s. Boy, was I wrong!
Last night, guitar virtuoso Eric Johnson took the stage with his former bandmates from the Electromagnets, Kyle Brock and Tommy Taylor to commemorate the anniversary of Ah Via Musicom, Johnson’s early '90s opus. To say that the room was packed would be an understatement! It was shoulder to shoulder; with almost all in attendance caught in a trance, mesmerized by the continued brilliance of his guitar play. Breaks in the set list were met with the kind of applause found more in finer jazz halls than in blues joints. The hoots and hollers that you find in raucous rock shows were only sprinkled here and there. This group was there to study a master.
The performance was divided into two acts. The first tapped into some brilliant covers, most notably “The Night Before” from the album Help. And an acoustic rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Mountainside” that fellow guitarist Joe Nardulli appropriately called “heavily spiced!” They sat among some fantastic samples from his cannon. Each proved that age has taken nothing away from his speed, precision and creativity. Johnson moved through sonic transitions with ease and even his vocals didn’t appear to have lost much steam.
His band mates, Kyle and Tommy let little go in terms of the limelight. Tommy Taylor in particular played with a ferociousness that only gained heat as the night went on. His play was both thunderous and exacting. As a trio the band delivered controlled rock rages that soared along in almost a hypnotic manner.
The second set was a run through of Ah Via Musicom, with a standout performance of “Desert Rose” — one that added even more rock muscle than can be found in the studio take.
As an encore, Johnson turned to “Zap” from his 1986 release Tones. Show opener Arielle joined him on stage as did New York City based guitarist Oz Noy. It was a fitting close to an evening where the limits of electric guitar were properly tested. For the better part of the night, Johnson played his signature Fender Strat. A rare appearance by a Telecaster offered up a change of pace. But it was the evening long absence of his F hole that may be the only disappointment worth noting. The deeper, broader based sound of the F Hole would have offered up a unique take on Ah Via Musicom. There’s always time for that. Last night, Eric John put on a clinic staying true to the tools that made Ah Via Musicom the classic that it remains. For those who braved the NYC cold on a Sunday night in March, there was no better way to celebrate its milestone.