Thursday, February 21, 2013

Buddy Guy/Jonny Lang Review

Buddy Guy blew my mind last night at Raleigh's Progress Energy Center.  More on that in a bit...first, a little about Jonny Lang.

I first saw blues guitarist Jonny Lang when I walked into a San Diego club in 1997 to check out some live music.  He was - wait for it - 16 years old.

Lang's major label debut is an awesome blues album, kickstarted by the opener and title track, "Lie to Me".  That album was filled with 3 and 4 minute flamethrowers, which for years made up the feel of his live shows. Now that Lang has been touring with one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time since last year, he seems to have adapted his live style to mirror that of Buddy Guy.

Lang's set, as usual, was filled with some blistering solos that make it abundantly clear why he has the chops to embark on a co-headlining tour with a legend.  But it also moves much slower, with improvisational grooves making for a more traditional blues performance.  Unfortunately, while very enjoyable to watch, Lang sacrifices just a little too much tempo and has eliminated too many of his more radio-friendly tracks from the set (including his biggest hit, "Lie to Me").

I wouldn't mind having the energy of Buddy Guy when I'm 76 years old.  Opening his set with a full throttle version of "Damn Right I've Got The Blues", Guy showed out of the gate why he is Eric Clapton's (and many others) guitar hero.  Watching Guy is watching a master at work.  His stage presence was impressive, often stopping songs to make jokes, telling quick anecdotes about the songs ("I didn't write that one.  Muddy Waters wrote that one.  But I did write this one.") He's got plenty of tricks left up his sleeve, including switching hands to play the guitar upside down and rubbing it against his chest to create a washboard effect.  He mesmerizes the audience when he tells them to quiet down and purposely sings quietly off mic.

At 76, he's not going to let anyone wreck his mojo, including an apparently intoxicated woman at the back of Memorial Auditorium who kept screaming lines like "I love you Buddy!!" and "You know that's right!!" at the most inappropriate of times.  When she screamed out during an intimate story about not having running water until he was 17 years old, Guy looked straight back at her and said "Why don't you shut the ___ up?" to the delight of the rest of the crowd.

We can wish geniuses like Buddy Guy will go on forever - but in the meantime, we've got to take every opportunity to see them while they are still blowing our minds.

Radio 96.1

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