At 88, blues guitarist B.B. King is a living legend and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. Slowed by age and infirmity, including diabetes, King continues to tour, with sometimes painful results.
In St. Louis, some fans are singing the blues after an erratic weekend performance led to a stream of audience catcalls and early departures.
Concertgoers said King's rambling on Friday night set featured just a handful of complete songs amid meandering musical snippets, long-winded soliloquies, an 8-piece backup band that missed its cues and a 15-minute sing-along of You Are My Sunshine.
"Is he a living legend? Absolutely. Do I love his music? You bet," said Larry Goldstein, who paid $150 for a pair of tickets. "But when you're paying that type of money, you expect to see a show."
The experience highlights an increasingly common occurrence as musicians in their 70s and 80s take the stage in front of nostalgic audiences.
A recent St. Louis concert by 87-year-old rock 'n' roll pioneer Chuck Berry was also marked by missed chords, forgotten lyrics and a backing band's persistent efforts to cover Berry's missteps.
Brad Goodman, King's Los Angeles-based agent at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, declined to comment through an assistant.
Other recent King performances have also struck sour notes. During a November concert in Texas, the bluesman's voice "was weak and ragged, and his trademark guitar style had dissolved into a parade of sour notes," a Dallas Morning News review said.
Bob Johnson attended the St. Louis concert and said the dissatisfied audience members were trying to encourage King more than criticize him, suggesting specific song titles or urging him to "Play some music" during the long interludes.
"Everybody was trying to be respectful that this guy is 88 years old," he said. "It was painful to watch."