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Weak Finale For Long Beach Blues Fest

September 23, 1986|DON SNOWDEN

With the memory of Little Milton's blazing performance Saturday still lingering, it was probably inevitable that the Sunday afternoon finale of the seventh annual Long Beach Blues Festival was notable more for its good-time atmosphere than the sterling quality of the music. The crowd swelled to about 8,000 and the high spirits were hardly dented by a series of performances that were more functional than fulfilling.

Albert King was the odds-on favorite to catalyze the audience, but he struggled mightily through most of his hourlong set. The guitar legend and his backing sextet were painfully out of tune most of the time; they only hit the same key when the guitarist launched into one of his patented string-bending solos.

When an unsubtle arrangement derailed one of his signature tunes, "I'll Play the Blues for You," the prospects for a late-set rally looked bleak. But King finally broke the ice and brought the crowd to its feet with a spine-tingling solo on "As the Years Go Passing By," squeezing out ringing high notes that demonstrated why his style has been a major influence on rock guitarists over the years. But one great solo in an hour still made for pretty meager pickings.

Saxophonist Hank Crawford preceded King with a smooth set of sophisticated instrumentals that won only polite applause. Crawford unleashed several strong solos but his tuxedo-clad quintet only sporadically elevated the performance beyond the realm of competent professionalism.

Big Twist & the Mellow Fellows earned a bigger response but the Chicago-based soul/blues unit--an entertaining, well-drilled bar band sporting intelligent, horn-flavored arrangements and some unusual cover material--lacked any distinctive vision. Singer Larry Nolan cut an imposing figure in his three-piece tan suit and matching hat but was too content to let his gargantuan presence carry the load.

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