Jonny Lang at the Commodore Ballroom, 11/29/17
Jonny Lang was a slave to the sound Wednesday night (Nov. 29) at the Commodore Ballroom. A blues rock guitar prodigy at 15 with the album Lie to Me, Lang’s fan-base is diehard and strong. The reason for that could not be more clear that night, as he threw himself around the stage in what can only be described as pure surrender to the music.
When Vancouver Weekly spoke with Lang last week, the musician talked a great deal about his song-writing. But listening to his latest album could never prepare concertgoers for live Jonny. Lang is not capable of holding back. By the end of his opening song “Don’t Stop (For Anything),” the blues aficionado was drenched in sweat and totally swept up in a flow of epic guitar solos. His current tour, promoting the new album Signs, is set up to show off Lang’s insane talent. His guitar work stole the show, but Lang’s signature raspy blues vocals were also in exceptional form.
Listening to Lang’s records is an entirely different experience—it could be said that his work is not at peak condition unless he’s live. The musician is just a force of nature on stage, and songs like “Signs” and “Snakes” from the new album showed off some more rock and roll qualities than tracks from other recent albums. On stage, Lang does not shy away from making each song very much about the guitar—it’s a sight to see those kinds of skilled riffs and relentless passion and energy.
Oldie but goodie “Rack Em’ Up” put the Commodore in a barroom, bluesy state of mind. Lang was accompanied by an exceptional l band, each more than expert at their instruments. “Turn Around” was a key build-up moment in the night—with a more than dynamic intro and Lang’s falsetto wrapping up the series of iconic riffs.
Of course, it was entirely necessary for the sound-maker to pull some appropriate covers out of his hat. For one of the covers, Lang chose Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City,” making it completely his own. The musician is able to blues-ify absolutely anything he does—but there was no need for him to blues-ify Muddy Waters song “Forty Days and Forty Nights” during the encore. It’s fitting that the contemporary Lang—who seems like he was snatched out of the 60s and dropped into 2017—would pay homage to one of the greats. Lang’s history with other greats like Buddy Guy and B.B. King hint at a lifelong respect and adoration for the art of the blues.
It was looking like Lang may not get to his biggest hit “Lie to Me,” as he moved the encore into a solo acoustic space. But just as he seemed to be gearing down from “Breakin’ Me,” the musician softly sang out the opening lyrics to “Lie to Me” and the crowd went crazy. Many had been yelling out the song’s name throughout the show and—finally getting their way—were enraptured. To close, Lang’s band rejoined him and the group broke into a plugged-in version.
Lang could not have been more humble, taking a bow with his band and clapping for the audience. There aren’t too many performers like Lang anymore, and a chance to see an expert guitarist like him should be taken at every opportunity.