BB King, Hallam FM Arena, Sheffield

Hallam FM Arena, Sheffield

When you hear that famous guitar vibrato sing, or start back from the roar of his baritone voice, you get the whole Delta blues backstory of the 80-year-old BB King in an explosive instant, as well as a sense of disbelief that this tour will really be his last, as has been announced. But King asked his devoted audience in Sheffield if they would have him back some day, just the same.

King's set in Sheffield's acoustically unforgiving Hallam FM Arena was preceded by a boogieing blues set from former Thin Lizzy and Colosseum guitarist Gary Moore. Virtuoso though he is, however, Moore was an inevitable reminder of what BB King has - in emotion, timing, dynamics and drama - that most other blues devotees don't.

King sat to play, as he has for some years, with the famous guitar, "Lucille", on his lap. At first he explored a Ray Charles-like mix of solemnity and defiance; then, as the music shifted gear, he banged his fists on his knees in emphasis, and squeezed off those trademark short, beautifully weighted high-end guitar fills in between the words.

The most affecting moments came when he was accompanied only by the rhythm section and his subtle fellow-guitarist, Charles Dennis. King took a lilting medium guitar blues briefly into Summertime, sang some wry senior-citizen lyrics that Dennis countered with the funeral march, and tilted into cheesiness on You Are My Sunshine - but almost got away with it (because he's him). This episode had as much chat as playing, but King has more than earned the right to pace himself. There was plenty to show why contemporary blues, soul, R&B and much more have been transformed by him, and The Thrill Is Gone still emitted its fusion of regret and courage about moving on. Maybe that had a special poignancy this time.

· At the MEN Arena, Manchester, tonight. Box office: 0870 190 8000. Then touring.


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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