Blues Traveler w/Jonny Lang
@ Northrop Auditorium, November 18, 1997
By: Ann Wickstrom

Jonny Lang - 1997
Photo © 1997 by Tom Asp
All rights reserved
I had not intended to go to this show, but the day before the show two free tickets landed in my lap so I thought, "What the heck? Why not?" First, let me say that I saw Jonny Lang when he was barely fourteen and he amazed me. I was there on that fateful night at Bunker's when he jammed with Jimmy Thackery on the last song of the evening. At the time, I had no idea who he was and neither did most others in the bar. Several months later I saw him there again with his own band, The Big Bang, who at the time was still residing in Fargo. He blew me away, as did his band. Since his split with The Big Bang I have become a huge fan of theirs but have been very disappointed in the direction Jonny Lang has taken. I don't care for most of the "Lie to Me" CD and I especially don't like the single. In no way is this a reflection of or a statement on his talent. He is a very impressive guitar player and the quality of his voice is no less than stunning. But something just isn't gelling.

As I watched and listened to Jonny at the Northrop, I was reassured of his phenomenal musical skills, but I also figured out what's bothering me. He's trying too hard to be flashy, to put an edge on something that would sound better without it. Obviously, thousands of his fans disagree, but I can't help but long for the soul and style I heard that night at Bunker's. He used to snap his fingers and tilt his head in time to the groove and it just looked so natural for him. He was BLUESY! Now, there's a whole lot of teeth gnashing, posturing, and tossing his head around to get the hair out of his face. I'd like to hear him just let the notes ring out of his guitar instead of cutting them short or using other effects that make the notes waver endlessly. Jonny Lang has what it takes and then some, but he seems to want the best of both worlds and I don't think he can get it. He needs to take a stand and decide which way to go. It's taken Eric Clapton twenty-five years to "come back around". If Jonny wants to take the same route that Clapton did in the 70's and 80's, that's cool. That's where the money is (notice I haven't resorted to the words "sold out" yet). I'm sure that's a huge temptation for a sixteen-year-old. However, if he decides to go the other way, I'll be standing there near the front, snapping my fingers with him.

Blues Traveler: I thought it interesting that they would start out with a cover ("Low Rider"). Other covers included "Johnny Be Good", "Devil Went Down to Georgia" and "Imagine." There were cool acoustic versions of "Most Precarious" and "Yours", a great lick-trading version of B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby" with Jonny Lang, and some unbelievable races up and down the scale by John Popper. The man is truly DANGEROUS on that harp. But as far as the rest of the show goes, Same As It Ever Was ... About two-thirds of the way through the show, the band started to segue one song into another into another and so on and so on and so on. Before long, all the songs started to sound the same and they lost their audience. A lot of people left early-and that should never happen. I have to say I'm glad my tickets were free.

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Copyright © 1997 by Ray M. Stiles
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