Review + Photos by Ken McCain
July 28, 2017 | Mountain Winery, Saratoga, CA – The San Francisco Bay Area got a dose of the blues last Friday evening. It was brought to them by the Grammy-award winning artist Jonny Lang, as he is currently touring in support of Buddy Guy. Jonny is continuing his trip around the US, stopping briefly in California for a few nights. On this gorgeous evening in the hills of Saratoga he and his band descended into the Mountain Winery Ampitheater to bring us his electrified delights. Since taking the stage in his early teens he has released five studio albums, all of which charted in Billboard Magazine’s top 50. The 2006 album release of ‘Turn Around’ garnered him a Grammy. Now, in 2017, he is touring on his sixth album, the upcoming release of Signs.
At first glance you may not take Jonny Lang for a blues-playing superstar, and at the age of 36 people might say he hasn’t lived long enough to have that title. However, he earns that degree, and the respect of fans new and old, every night he’s up on stage. He leaves it all out there on stage with no doubt that he can play as one of the best in the world.
His style over the years has evolved from the vein of B.B. King, Albert King, and Buddy Guy, into what is said to be closer to Stevie Wonder. This may be true as about halfway through his opening set he broke out Wonder’s “Living for the City”. This was a real crowd pleaser and a highlight of the night. Lasting nearly twice as long as the original cut, Lang and his band traded licks and solos between him, keyboard, and bass. They continued on, bringing the final chorus back in and jammed together to end the song. No one was sitting in their seat after that! Following that up they went into another fan favorite, “Rack ‘Em Up” from his debut album Lie to Me. The longevity of this song gave the band fuel to fire up the crowd. As the solo approached the duties went to the bass player first, then traded off to keyboards. A soulful organ blues solo ensued leading up to Jonny taking the helm, starting off slow and building upto a crashing finale.
The album Lie to Me was a huge success for Lang back in 1997 going platinum while he was in his teenage years. Some 20 years later it still sounds fresh. The title track was a big part of that fortune, and his fans love to hear it at every show. In a moment of surprise, the band left the stage and Lang saddled up an acoustic guitar for a slowed-down version of “Lie to Me”. As another way to keep the song fresh for the audience, and always makes for good talking points, Lang began the song with a Spanish flair. It was low and slow, almost haunting at times, going on for several minutes. Like all great guitarists can do, though, he kept us all engaged and guessing as to where he was going with it. About halfway through the number the band re-entered the arena and took up their places. As they did this, Jonny changed back to his custom Fender, and the band went full-tilt into the second half of the song. After a smoking solo they brought it back down to earth with a Jonny Lang-style crescendo.
Jonny Lang will continue his tour toward the east coast, through the mid- and southwest, then back to the east in to the middle of October. They will then go to Europe and tour for a month, hitting nearly 17 cities and a few blues festivals along the way. Try to catch this star when he comes your way, you won’t want to miss him!
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