Tuesday, November 26, 2013

CONCERT REVIEW: Buddy Guy / Jonny Lang (Guest Post)

Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
West Palm Beach, FL  (11.20.13)

Michelle Wilson returns 
with an up-close, first-
hand concert review. 
"Damn right, she 
got the blues!"

It was a rain-soaked Wednesday evening in downtown West Palm Beach, FloridaBut that didn’t deter nearly 2,000 faithful fans from flocking to the posh Kravis Center. With the enticement of an all-out blues jam dangling like a kid waiting for Santa, co-headliners Jonny Lang and Buddy Guy shot down the chimney and delivered the goods with their  spectacular, individual performances.

With a stripped-down stage and inward-facing amps, Lang and his band casually appeared on stage shortly after 8pm. Clad entirely in black, the five-piece ensemble included Nashville-based rhythm guitarist Akil Thompson and keyboardist Dwan Hill, as well as Minnesota-based bass player James “Jimmy” Anton and drummer Barry Alexander, with Lang on lead vocals and phenomenal lead guitar. Thomson, Hill and Anton provided backing vocals and incredible harmonies.

Thompson, Lang and Hill
Opening with “Blew Up the House” from his 2013 release, Fight for My Soul, followed by “Don’t Stop (for Anything)” off 2006’s Turn Around, and “A Quitter Never Wins” from the 1997 record Lie to Me, Lang immediately set the stage for a blistering high-energy, 65-minute set featuring a smattering of tunes from his entire major label (studio) catalog.

Alternating his gruff blues-infused sound with a piercing falsetto and mad guitar skills, Lang was dripping with euphoric sweat by the second song. Watching the guitar virtuoso in action and seeing the expressions on his face as he shared his passion, one could only marvel at his ability. While hearing his music on a record is a treat, seeing and hearing him perform live is a very different experience indeed.

Next up, Lang slowed the tempo down a bit with the title track from Turn Around, including a somewhat lengthy jam which seemed to leave many fans a bit restless. Following this up with “Red Light” from 2003’s Long Time Coming, Lang veered into a Christian-based mini-prayer session and an audience-interactive Bob-Marley-esque “Everything is gonna be alright” chant. With the message delivered, Lang ramped it back up with his cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ for the City,” a bonus track included on Long Time Coming. Including tender harmonies and featuring Thompson on guitar, Lang closed out with "That Great  Day," from Turn Around,  and “Angel of Mercy” off 1998’s Wander This World

It seems worth noting that shorter versions of "Turn Around" and "Red Light" may have afforded time for more numbers, with noticeable absence of such classics as "Lie to Me," "Matchbox," "Still Raining" and "Wander This World." I also expected to hear the title track from Fight for My Soul, but this was not included either. Closing with "Angel of Mercy" seemed like an odd choice, and it left me feeling perplexed and waiting for more. All in all, however, it was a stellar performance by a truly talented troupe.

After a brief intermission, the one and only Buddy Guy (and his polka dots) took the stage at 9:45pm. Accompanied by talented, charismatic keyboard player and vocalist, Marty Sammon, drummer Tim Austin, bass player Orlando J. Wright and rhythm guitarist Ric “Jaz” Hall, Guy quickly informed the audience that “I play the kind of blues you can’t hear on the radio anymore,” and “I’m gonna play something so funky you can smell it!” Brimming with blues-based tales as only Buddy could recount, the 77-year-old, six-time Grammy recipient thrilled fans with a 90-minute set of storytelling, ad libbing, and f-bombs. Oh, and there may have been some guitar thrown in.

Raised on a Louisiana farm and influenced by the likes of the late, great Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, the self-taught guitar prodigy gave the crowd the thrill of a lifetime. He played his Fender Stratocaster every way imaginable, including behind him, above him, with a drumstick, and even with a towel. Yes, a towel. Paving the way for everyone from Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughn and his co-headliner, Lang, Guy’s name is synonymous with iconic blues.

After confessing that he doesn’t practice with the band or use a set list because he never knows just what he is going to play, Guy proclaimed that the crowd was making him feel like he should play all night long. “’Cause I will; I’m crazy like that,” he boasted.

Opening his set with “Damn Right I Got the Blues,” “Five Long Years” and “I Got my Mojo Working,” followed by “The Things That I Used to Do,” “Someone Else is Steppin’ In (Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In)”  and “74 Years Young,” Guy peppered the song breaks with witty anecdotes and life-long insights. “Skin Deep,” a song inspired by his late mother, recalls a boyhood moment when he told his mother that he was good looking, to which she replied that looks are only skin deep. A poignant lesson for a young boy that, as Guy confessed, left a lasting impression. 

Other highlights included John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” Robert Randolph’s “Meet Me in Chicago” and “Messin’ with the Kid,” Guy’s collaboration with Junior Wells on the Mel London-penned tune.

The real “it” moment of the set came somewhere in the middle, when Guy alighted from the stage and came walking down the aisle, stopping adjacent to my section. Mic in hand, guitar slung around his neck, he proceeded to play and sing in the midst of his beloved fans, and they ate it up.

From a concert perspective, this was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever attended. Each performance had its own unique flavor and style of blues, and the upscale theater and superb mix only raised the level of enjoyment. 

-Michelle Wilson
(November 2013)

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