Burton Cummings spelled it out at B.B. King’s on Sept. 30 after opening with his 1970 Guess Who classic “No Sugar Tonight.”
It was his first time at the venue with a “real band,” he noted, earlier ones having been solo piano shows, and his was an “organic band” with “no tricks, lasers, dancers—God forbid! Just real stuff.”
Then again, what could Cummings add to letter-perfect performances of other Guess Who gems like “Hand Me Down World,” “Albert Flasher,” “These Eyes,” “Clap for the Wolfman” and “Star Baby.” “Laughing” even had Cummings’ laugh-sing bit at the end of the single, while its B-side hit “Undun” had his eight bars of flute play; in fact, it was so right on that the singalong SRO crowd slowed it down with him at the end.
Backstage after the show, Cummings related how he himself always wanted to hear songs in concert the way they sounded on record, without new arrangements or medleys. He recalled learning “the power of a hit record” from Jefferson Airplane, whom Guess Who opened for in their Canada home country prior to making it big stateside: “We did one of our best shows ever at the time, and the crowd went crazy. Then Jefferson Airplane—as trashed as they were—came out and did ‘White Rabbit’ and everyone forgot Guess Who even existed.”
(Other interesting backstage tidbit: He was a huge Henry Mancini collector, since it was the only jazz he could understand.)
Besides the big Guess Who hits, Cummings did their David Bowie-inspired single “Glamour Boy,” and a great cover of The Equals “Baby, Come Back,” which he had recorded with fellow Guess Who alum Randy Bachman on their 2007 Bachman-Cummings Band cover album Jukebox. He also played the first few bars of “Country Time Rhymes” from the self-titled 1972 album by New York’s Fifth Avenue Band in one of many Cummings salutes to its keyboardist Murray Weinstock, who was in the audience, Cummings being a big fan of the band and Weinstock.
Cummings was clearly enjoying himself—but with humility. Noting how many of Guess Who’s hits were actually cut in New York just a few blocks away from the club, he said he was still nervous to play New York and thrilled to have a packed house. Recalling the time the band received a gold record from Dick Clark on American Bandstand over 40 years ago, he said that even after all this time, the golden disc was still “as damn pretty as the day we got it.”
Guess Who’s huge 1970 hit “American Woman,” with its scornful “I don’t need your war machines,” came toward the end of the set, with the audience even singing along to Bachman’s high-distortion guitar parts. Earlier Cummings had played the group’s minor 1972 hit “Guns, Guns, Guns,” with its anti-hunting theme, having stated that for Christmas he wanted 15 minutes alone with that “prick dentist who shot the lion.” Solidarity-minded encore “Share the Land” had everyone in the room waving arms.
“You melted the years in me,” Cumming said at the end, having observed that he’s reached “the age where you look better with your clothes on.”