Live Review: Buddy Guy @ Enmore Theatre

14 April 2023 | 10:37 am | David James Young

After Guy has said his damn-right farewell, he knows that the blues are in good, capable hands.

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Christone “Kingfish” Ingram knows exactly how to make his presence felt. That's not just on account of the 24-year-old's towering figure, either. As soon as he sets course for the high-end of his signature Fender Telecaster, it's almost impossible to take your eyes off him. Ingram's reputation as Gen Z's great blues guitar hopes well and truly precedes him – even before making his way onto the prestigious Enmore Theatre stage, he was one of the key talking points of last weekend's Bluesfest. Across his 50-minute set tonight, he and the band prove exactly why we need to keep talking. There is a long line of tradition that Ingram carries with him whenever he goes on one of his transcendent six-string tangents – a line that was certainly paved in part by tonight's headliner. With his youthful exuberance, however, comes a refreshing perspective on this sacred form – and, in tandem, a level of electricity that undercurrents through every slinking detour and rumbling jam crescendo. With a seemingly telekinetic band knowing exactly what moves to make when Ingram's generational talent is one that simply can't be ignored. Hyperbolic? Just watch the kid play. You'll see.

You only get one first impression, it's said. What they don't tell you, however, is that you also only get one last chance... well, unless you're John Farnham or KISS, but that's another story for another time. Ahead of his return to Australia, Buddy Guy's April tour of Australia was being billed as his last. It makes sense: at 86 years old, Guy has been playing the blues for longer than most of his audience has been alive. Showtime is almost over for the polka-dotted grandfather of blues – a harsh reality but a home truth nonetheless. With all of that said: Buddy Guy does not play like a man ready to shuffle off this mortal coil. He ain't dead yet, not by a long shot.

For one, he strides onto stage when he's given the grand introduction – he's not assisted on stage by anyone, not guided by hand, nothing. He gets right to work, putting his exceptional band through their paces on one of his best-known cuts – the fittingly-titled Damn Right, I've Got the Blues. He can't wipe the grin off his face whenever he ventures off into another solo – and really, neither can we. For another thing, Guy knows exactly how to make a blues show fun. Of course, the genre has been centred around morose mournfulness for millennia – but what good is sitting around and chin-stroking when we're supposed to be having a fourth-wall-breaking live experience? Guy struts around, getting direct reactions from those in the front rows, chides the audience at large for not singing along loudly enough and even teases an audience member who goes the opposite direction and sings just a little too loud.

During his version of Denise LaSalle's Someone Else is Steppin' In, Guy goes beyond breaking the fourth wall and essentially serves as its Mikhail Gorbachev. Off he goes up the aisles, passing his guitar pick to a little girl to strum his fretboard before making his way to the back and ending up lying across several seats back up the front – all while never missing a beat.

Robert Johnson may have sold his soul to the devil, but Buddy Guy has clearly held onto his – it's both this and his heart that go directly into every last second of his performance. For one last run, Guy calls up Ingram to not only have a big final jam but to effectively pass the torch – after Guy has said his damn-right farewell, he knows that the blues are in good, capable hands. Throwing guitar picks into the crowd and even signing a front-row devotee's guitar, Guy gives one last wave and reminds the crowd that he loves them. With that, he's gone. For good? Probably. Forgotten, however? Not while everyone in attendance tonight is still around to tell the tale.