ATLANTIC CITY, NJ—“I went to High School in Montclair and it was the toughest six years of my life,” declared Joe Walsh at the Borgata, where the Eagles guitarist and B.B. King tag-teamed for a royal flush of howling guitars. Walsh, a badass lead guitarist, self-styled maverick, class clown and King, an old-time Chicago bluesman first joined forces on the 1970 album Indianola Mississippi Seeds, which many consider one of King’s finest records. At the Borgata they reunited once more on separate sets as they let their guitars do the talking.
B.B.’s set was a case of old school show biz. A horn section gave the tunes a full-bodied orchestral feel to them with 86-year-old B.B. at the helm conducting. King wooed the crowd with his charm, between song banter and vocals that made you feel like weeping into a can of stale beer. He held his guitar, Lucille, like a lover, tickling her frets and strings then stroking sweet sounds out of her. On “The Thrill Is Gone,” “Rock Me Baby” and “Key To The Highway” King’s vocals shone leaving warm, fuzzy smiles in its wake.
Joe Walsh blasted through a storied catalog of hits from his solo career, James Gang and the Eagles for his 14-song set. He pulled each tune out of his bag of tricks like a magician onstage as he rattled and hummed his whammy bar and distortion into psychedelic fits of thunder that straddled the divide between the barrelhouse rock of the James Gang and his introspective work as a solo artist.
Free from the calculated reins of Eagles’ Henley and Frey, Walsh’s set was a loosely constructed trample of thick, molten rock that his high-pitched vocals pierced through like a knife. He let it rip on every tune playing into each one’s dynamics with a flurry of explosive solos and chunky riffage that built into symphonic dirges of colorful rock.
There were shoutouts for songs, cries for presidential runs and laughter. Moseying onstage to the mic and mumbling “How ya doin’?” in a black t-shirt with a guitar decale on it and black pants, Walsh opened with “Welcome To The Club,” from his 1975 record So What. Next was “A Life Of Illusion,” which he played on acoustic, and then “Over And Over” from But Seriously, Folks… On “Rocky Mountain Way” things got very ‘70s as Walsh took to the middle section using a talk box as his guitars mirrored the notes sang in the style that Frampton popularized on Comes Alive (Walsh’s use of the talk box predates Frampton’s by a few years).
An incredibly gorgeous rendering of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” was next with Walsh’s backup vocalists sharing the spotlight. On “Turn To Stone” he teased the crowd with a few notes then slowly built things up into a crescendo of riffs as images of rioting in the streets flashed onscreen. That was one of the highlights of the night. James Gang’s “Funk #49” and “Walk Away” were raucous reminders of the power trio that Walsh left in 1971.
Walsh introduced the 10-minute blowout “Life’s Been Good” by apologizing to the kids of parents who grew up to the party boy anthem. He then proceeded to duck walk (a la Chuck Berry) across the stage and preen at the crowd as he delivered the song’s signature riffs. The Eagles “Life In the Fast Lane” was the set closer. Walsh’s fingers seemed to glide up and down the fret board effortlessly as he combined the dual guitar parts of the original into one.
The encore “I.L.B.T.S.” was big and bouncy. “All Night Long” got everyone primed for some craps and more partying at the casino. Walsh ended it all from the stage with a booming “Are you happy now?” Yes, indeed.