Jonny Lang sprang onto the scene in 1997 at age 16 as something of a blues prodigy, with his first album Lie to Me going platinum. A few decades later, he’s played with blues greats like Buddy Guy, has won a Grammy, and he crushes mind-bending guitar solos on auto-pilot, often with his eyes closed…literally.
Lang played the Teragram Ballroom Friday night in anticipation of his sixth studio album, Signs, set to be released September 8th. A small army of guitars was at the ready- Lang utilized a different guitar for each of the first four songs, more evidence that his craft is a finely tuned one.
Lang began with the bluesy “Blew Up (The House),” a tale of reinvention featuring a rolling country lick and screaming electric solos –think banjo meets Jimi Hendrix. It was song one in his set, and Lang & company were charging full-steam already. No build-up required for Jonny…he skipped straight to high-energy and stayed there the rest of the night.
By the third number, “Turn Around,” off his Grammy-winning rock-gospel album of the same name, Lang’s locks were drenched with sweat. And for good reason — throughout his performance, it wasn’t uncommon for a single song to clock in at six or even eight minutes in length, with a good half of its run-time comprised of Lang’s in-your-face guitar solos.
Lang’s guitar solos demanded nothing short of athletic endurance. He’d arrive at what you thought was the end of the song after an explosive wailing hubbub, and it would just… keep going. It was easy to get lost in the immersiveness. You’d regain full consciousness five or six blissful minutes later, only to realize he’d been playing the same song the entire time- that it had zigged and zagged about, diverting into various improvised solos before dropping back into a slow bluesy lull.
Lang played newer tunes, but went back into the archives, too. He brought out opener Zane Carney to join the crew for “Rack ‘em Up,” an old-timey cymbal-heavy blues tune about a pool shark, off Lang’s first album Lie to Me. He performed his new single, “Stronger Together,” which features a distinctly more polished sound with a warm and full chorus.
Lang’s voice is a bit of an enigma, at times scratchy and weathered–perfect for the blues–but other times ringing out clear as an arrow, piercing in its directness. The fluctuation between the two hooks you, it’s a perfect yin and yang.
A rousing request for an encore from the crowd meant Lang closed with a cover of Muddy Water’s “Forty Days and Forty Nights” followed by an acoustic version of the original rocketship that launched his career – “Lie to Me.”
Lang’s talent truly can’t be put into words; it just needs to be experienced. Luckily, he’s about to kick off a tour…