Live at ChicagoFest
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2009, Volume 16, #6
Written by John Metzger
Fri June 5, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
When joined in concert by an array of special guests, artists typically are thrown off their game. On occasion, the sparks will fly from the beginning to the end of a performance. Sometimes, though, it seems as if the musicians merely are biding their time, waiting for the rest of their friends to join the festivities. Then, there also are those occasions when the music never quite comes together in the way that it should, regardless of who is on stage. Unfortunately, the material featured on Live at ChicagoFest frequently falls into the latter category. Although the release of any archival footage of Muddy Waters is enough of a reason to celebrate, the set is too uneven to be viewed as anything more than a concert film aimed at collectors.
For the record, Live at ChicagoFest isn’t completely devoid of highlights. Waters ripped into She’s Nineteen Years Old, adding a slide guitar solo that cut like a knife through the song’s slow, ominous groove. Likewise, he took command of They Call Me Muddy Waters by injecting a nasty, buzzing, live-wire lead into the heart of the tune, seriously elevating its ambience of violence and danger. Elsewhere, Waters graciously gave guitarist Johnny Winter plenty of room to explore the intricacies of Going Down Slow, while harmonica player Mojo Buford nearly stole the show by repeatedly answering Waters’ measured vocals with pointed blasts of anguish.
Still, there are too many moments on Live at ChicagoFest when it feels as if Waters simply was going through the motions. The momentum built by the deliberative pacing of You Don’t Have to Go, for example, was scuttled by the tossed-off nature of Baby Please Don’t Go, I’m a King Bee, and Trouble No More. Working with a routine set list, Waters’ delivery was solid but uninspired. Although he showed flashes of brilliance on guitar, he also had a tendency to cede the spotlight to his backing band and surrounding guests. In fact, it wasn’t until Mighty Joe Young and Big Twist mutated You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling into Five Long Years that the lyrics to the songs were delivered with passion and conviction.
There’s no question that Waters is a legend. While he clearly was having a terrific time performing for the massive assemblage of adoring fans, Live at ChicagoFest hardly could be considered the pinnacle of his career. Captured as he neared the end of his journey, the set provides an overview of Waters’ canon that is moderately engaging. It also, however, is ultimately inessential.
Of Further Interest...
Live at ChicagoFest is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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