The King, George, and Weezer

A few days ago, here's what I was going to write about:

George Gibbons and BB King:

Caitlyn's dad was in town, his visit centered around Caitlyn's gift of tickets to see the legendary BB King at the Schermerhorn. When I got home from the hospital on Saturday, April 5, Caitlyn and her dad were there, unloading two salvaged teak chairs, a table, and a Corian tabletop of ungodly mass. The Gibbons clan is eagle-eyed when it comes to potential scrap windfalls, and their acumen with tools can border on alchemy. That said, two solid but dingy teak chairs, one of which had been missing an arm, are now sparkling and whole, and they have a new home in the backyard. The heavy slab of Corian will either become a tabletop, or we'll use it as a shield if our home is assaulted by AK-47-wielding assassins.

The show itself was good- but let me begin by stating that BB King is 88 years old, and you can just tell that his fingers can't quite do what his mind is telling them to do. That said, he still rips off some pretty sweet licks on Lucille, and his singing is solid.

His show, or the start of it at least, is pretty theatrical, as his eight-piece band of young whippersnappers (aged 45-80) comes out, tunes up, and launches into a nearly thirty minute "warmup" number. The rotund but natty band director prances around and points to each guy, telling each one when to step up and take a long solo. The tune rose and fell and climaxed, and it was awesome. The pace slowed down a bit after BB came out following his Mike Tysonish introduction. One of the highlights, humor-wise, was BB introducing the band. Once he finished with the rhythm section on his left, he turned to his right and said "on guitar tonight..." followed by something that we, the crowd, assumed was the guitarist's name, though what he said was not too clear. After our applause for the band member subsided, BB turned to his guitarist and said, into the mic, "What's your name, son?" Son! The guy had to be fifty, at least. But like I said, BB is 88, which probably licenses him to 1) not bother to memorize (or just plain forget) the names of the guys he tours with, and 2) call grown-ass men, maybe grandfathers themselves, "son."

The Robert Cray Band was the opening act, and they were fantastic. I have a few Cray albums from when I was a kid and he had a crossover hit with Smoking Gun- in fact, the first concert I ever went to unsupervised was Cray at Flint Center at De Anza College, when he was supporting the Strong Persuader album. I can't remember what year that was, but Was (Not Was) was his opening act that night, and you can be damn sure that they milked the hell out of their single Walk the Dinosaur, which I should note has made many a "Worst Songs of All Time" list- not that I necessarily agree with that.

Anyway, Cray's band was tight, his voice was clear and strong, and it was cool to see an unapologetic bluesman delighting the crowd with multiple solos on every song, each Stratocaster a seeming extension of his body. I suppose seeing him live again after all these years must have closed some great cosmic circle in my life. 

That show was on Monday the 7th. One of the many reasons I was bummed to spend the night in the hospital two Fridays ago is that we had Weezer tickets for Saturday, and I sure as hell did not want a silly, swollen, discolored limb to get in the way of that trip down memory lane. They had booked two shows at the Ryman; the first would feature their first album, Weezer, in its entirety, and they'd play Pinkerton the next night. When I got the email announcing these shows, I was gripped by an excitement that took me by surprise. I have never considered myself a huge Weezer fan, per se, but the thought of them playing the album that resided in my pull-out (or maybe detachable-face) stereo in high school spurred me to get online ten minutes before the on-sale time and battle the masses (ok, not battle, but refresh and refresh) until two tickets were on their way. I hadn't looked forward to a concert this much in a long time, and after spending an infuriating and tedious night in the hospital, it was just what I needed. Luckily, the doctor I saw the morning of the show was of the same generation as me and therefore sympathized with my desire to break free and see Weezer. I like to think that that factored in to why she set me free that morning, and although that is an incredibly silly belief, the net result was this: Caitlyn and I were off to the Ryman on Saturday night.

Caitlyn was lukewarm about the tickets when I bought them, and understandably so; she was just in junior high when I was cruising around, windows down, slurping a Slurpee and blasting Say it Ain't So, so I'm sure she did not have the irreplaceable teenage associations with the album. However, once the band started in on My Name is Jonas, it was clear that Caitlyn knew all of the words the pretty much the whole album- maybe even better than I did, but not more than the guy in front of us with the light-up cape emblazoned with the Weezer's winged-W logo.

Synapses in my brain that had not fired since 1996 were on crackling like moistened Pop Rocks when the band played the tunes that I had loved passionately but since forgotten. Hearing the band play The World Has Turned and Left Me Here scratched an eighteen year-old itch that I had no idea was even irritating my musical soul. Holiday was perfect, down to the haunting harmonies of the "Haa-art Bee-eat" refrain. And these were just the album cuts, unknown to the casual MTV viewer of the mid-nineties.

The hits from the album united the crowd in a way that I wish happened at every show, as the band played the album note for note, down to the iconic guitar solo in Say It Ain't So, the stoned, mumbled semi-lyrics before each verse of Undone (The Sweater Song) (you know what I'm talking about, right?), and of course- of course- the squealing guitar lick before the last chorus of Buddy Holly. I mean, if you aren't hearing those eight notes in your head right now, I'm sorry, but your nineties credentials will have to be reviewed.

Only in Dreams, the epic last song on the record, was true to the recorded version, from the plucky bass, the delicate, lullaby-like verses, and the furious guitar solos. The tune's arc is like a sheet of paper, whipped into chaos by a whirlwind, but allowed to rock gently back to earth on a barely-perceptible breeze. After the final bass notes petered out, ending the song, the album, and the show, the rabid crowd chanted, clapped, and pounded the pews demanding an encore. But the house lights and music came on, and it was clear that the band had no intention of playing another song that night. Most of the crowd filed for the doors, but an extremely vocal (and intoxicated) minority near the stage wouldn't drop it. They were pissed, as I probably would have been at any other show where the crowd was so deserving of an encore. But this was different. We came to hear the Blue Album, and that's what we got- note for note, lick for lick, inflection for inflection, and when Only in Dreams is over, the the Blue Album is over. The show was over, and it was perfect.

I have seen some pretty cool shows at the Ryman, but none even came close to the spirit of this one. The whole place was on its feet for the whole thing, and as I stood there, with my beautiful wife and the captivated crowd- every last person- belting out "Say it ain't soooo whoa-oh," it occurred to me that this one was of the first times since my treatment started that I felt normal. Like I had hair and eyebrows. Like I did not have cancer. Like nothing was wrong in the world at all.