Buddy Guy performs at the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House. Photo: Daniel Boud
Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, April 19
Charlie Musselwhite runs a strapping blues band. His voice is strong, his singing distinctive and his lyrics wry. His harmonica bustles and occasionally pulverises its way through the super-groovy rhythm section, and in Matt Stubbs he has a guitarist who can carve out deft, arresting solos. It all adds up to an immensely enjoyable set.
Then Buddy Guy storms on stage like a blues-guitar tornado, and instantly you hear the difference between a very good Chicago blues act and a great one. It isn't that Buddy has a much better band, although he's kept this team of Ric Hall (guitar), Marty Sammon (keyboards), Orlando Wright (bass) and Tim Austin (drums) together for so long that they're as slick and tight and attuned to his vagaries as it's possible to be.
No, the difference is Buddy: that voice, that presence and, above all, that blistering guitar playing.
His act has been much the same since I first saw him in the early '70s. He still does impressions of other blues stars – Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Albert King, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix – realised in snippets of songs that are nipped in their prime as he suddenly goes off on a different tangent in what is like a blues stream of consciousness.
There's his love of dynamic extremes, from softest whispers to firestorms of sound, and of course the inevitable marauding through his adoring audience, playing and singing all the while.
At 77 his voice remains one of the most striking in blues history, and there are some potent ghosts in that hall. The way he marshals his vocal resources these days makes his singing even more visceral – like his guitar playing, which somehow manages to combine a get-a-load-of-this swagger with the rawest truth and most electrifying beauty.
If ever anyone tells you that they don't get what the blues is all about, take them to a Buddy Guy concert. He does conversions while you wait.