Like some of you, I live in a town that's not so big, not so small, but just small enough that I miss plenty of great concerts. So when tickets for Kenny Wayne Shepherd went on sale at the local theater, I wasted no time in scoring three front row seats.
Kenny has always had top notch bands. I've seen him play live 5 times over the past 15 years. Once in an arena, twice in a nightclub, and twice in medium sized theaters. No matter what the venue is, no matter how large the crowd, Kenny's band is always tight, Kenny is on fire, and if you like his music, you will love the show.
First some pics, then a video, then my thoughts on the show.
Some Video Highlights
The band played a pretty balanced mix of recent songs from "How I Go" and past hits including Deja Voodoo, Everything Is Broken, True Lies, Shame Shame Shame, While We Cry, and a few others.
This tour features Riley Osborne on keys, Tony Franklin on (fretless) bass, Chris Layton on drums, and of course, Noah Hunt on vocals.
There were six amps set up behind a plexiglass shield. Three Vibroverbs, a Bandmaster head and cabinet, what looked like a Blackface twin, and a tweed 4x10 combo that I couldn't identify. Only two of the amps were in use, the bandmaster and the tweed.
The extra amps are probably for use in larger venues, but also to ensure that if one amp has issues, there's a backup available. The plexiglass shield allows the amp to be pushed harder, while minimizing stage volume. With less amp volume leaking into onto the stage, and into the crowd, the soundman can control the FOH mix better, and everyone can hear better on stage.
Interestingly, the shield had a pattern of holes drilled through it, but I'm not sure what purpose that served, other than to allow a bit of the sound to travel through. Maybe the sound was too dull without the holes.
Kenny started the show with what looked like one of his old vintage strats, or possibly a Fender Custom Shop Relic. After a few songs, he switched to a sunburst strat, and then alternated between different variations of his Fender Signature strat for the remainder of the show.
For the last song of the night, he switched to a Fender Monterey Strat, his traditional axe for Voodoo Child (slight return).
My memory might be foggy, but it seems that the last two times I've seen Kenny play, about a year ago, and last night, the band has had a more thoughtful approach to crowd interaction than at previous concerts. Both Noah and Kenny made sure to play to both sides of the audience, crossing paths many times during the show.
It might sound silly, but a lead singer has a tough job knowing what to do during guitar solos. Noah compliments Kenny very well in this regard. He sits back when he needs to, rallies the crowd on the other side of the stage, or plays the role of "look at this guy play!" when appropriate.
If you've ever seen a lead singer who wasn't comfortable in their own skin during a guitar solo, you might not appreciate, or even notice what Noah brings to the performance. In a way, that's kind of the point.
Chris Layton and Tony Franklin didn't miss a beat all night long, and there was at least one point where I'm pretty sure Kenny surprised them with a song choice. I always watch for visual cues between band members, and one of the greatest things to see last night was "The Stare".
I'm not sure if it was rehearsed ahead of time, but there was a point during one of the later songs where it sounded like Kenny was going 'off-script'. Most of the time, Chris is in the back, eyes on his drums, doing his thing. But there was a period of about 5 seconds where his eyes locked with Kenny's, and they just stared at each other. Kenny kept playing whatever it was that he was playing, and Chris never missed a beat.
That short, eyes-locked gaze, says so much about the experience and professionalism of both musicians. It's an intangible thing that only comes from playing with someone long enough. They can sense what you're going to do, just by watching you, listening for the cues that no one can hear.
Towards the end of the show, the lights dimmed, and Kenny started into a soft ballad, and the crowd cheered as he played the opening chords to "While We Cry". Of all the times I've seen Kenny play that song, I never thought to watch anything but his fingers.
But last night, I noticed that he played almost the whole song with his eyes closed, standing still, center stage. A song like that can communicate many things, and I'm sure many people in the crowd had their own sentimental thoughts, but I wondered "What does a guy who's been on a bus for weeks at a time think about when he plays a song like that?"
When I first saw Kenny play, he was probably about 17 or 18, not even out of high school. Now he's 34, married, and father of three children, all under the age of 6. That's not a small change.
I've only got one son, and I hardly ever travel for more than a week, but when I do I miss him so much it hurts.
I'm no mind reader, but I wondered if during that song, I wasn't watching a musician who just wished he could be at home with his family, if only for a few minutes before heading to the next show.
After the show, as I walked to the car, I met Chris Layton outside the tour bus. I'm a complete moron when it comes to meeting people I admire, so I didn't even think to get a picture, or even introduce myself.
All I did was tell him that the music he's played has changed my life. He said it has changed his life too.