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Published on February 10th, 2014 | by Jon Santiago


Review: Buddy and Jonny Defy Expectations at the PAC

Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
Feb. 7

Concertgoers were in for a double treat on Friday night (Feb. 7) when Jonny Lang opened for his pal Buddy Guy at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. For fans who hadn’t been able to catch up with these artist’s live shows in a while, it was an eye-opening evening, starting with Lang.


Jonny Lang at the PAC (photo by Jon Santiago)

Lang’s people divide, more or less, into two camps; the ones who became true believers with the release of his album Lie to Me in 1997 (Lang was 16 years old at the time) and the fans who joined the party later in his career and found that the kid they’d heard so much about had matured into an artist with a lot more in his musical quiver than his precocious blues-smith reputation could accommodate.

On Friday, Lang’s set ranged from gospel, blues, reggae, rhythm ‘n’ blues, and Hendrix-infused guitar rock. Whether he was working his way through longtime crowd favorites like “Red Light” or “Angel of Mercy,” Lang’s willingness to stray over to the musical road less traveled remains surprising. Or frustrating. Depends on which camp of Lang fans you find yourself in.

There is an argument made that Lang’s branching out of the strict blues mold cost him fans — people who were unwilling to follow him on fresh adventures. But Lang’s performance proved that he may be more like Hendrix than anyone expected. Like Jimi in his later career, Lang is developing what some think of as a “jazz” side to his music, but it may be harder to pin down than that.

Lang has surrounded himself with a very talented group of musicians: Keyboard player Dwan Hill, drummer Barry Alexander, guitarist Akil Thompson, and bass man Sonny Thompson. These guys have the chops to go in just about any direction he wants to explore. In addition, Lang has a knack for performance and creating dramatic tension — even theater — out of nothing more than carefully chosen lighting and his own compelling stage presence. So, whether it’s “A Quitter Never Wins” or his funkadelic cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City,” Lang is going to use these song canvases as a starting point. And you know what? As he proved at the PAC, it’s almost guaranteed to be an interesting trip if you’re willing to listen.


Buddy Guy at the PAC (photo by Jon Santiago)

Buddy Guy strutted out onto the stage waving his arms in the air like he was about to begin testifying to the congregation. Which is just about how it went for the evening’s performance — but it was not the sort of congregation likely to be sanctioned by any mainstream faith. Not any time soon.

Guy started relating a story and the crowd wanted to add their encouragement with a couple shout outs but the bluesman wasn’t having any of that.

“If you keep talking you’re not gonna hear a fucking thing I’m saying,” he told the crowd and they applauded him for it. “Just wanted to get that off my chest.”

Guy did tell his audience just what to expect. “I’m going to play the blues you’re not going to get on the radio” he said and proceeded to get all down and dirty with it.

As an example, whether this was the first time you’d heard Guy’s cover of the Muddy Waters’ classic “Hoochie Coochie Man,” or the hundredth, it’s still a hoot. Buddy is one funny guy, and he loves to play with his audience’s head. When the crowd wasn’t meeting his expectations for singing along on the chorus, he admonished them, saying, “I played the same song in Tokyo three weeks ago, and guess what? They didn’t fuck it up like you just did. Let’s try that again.”


Buddy Guy (photo by Jon Santiago)

And so it went.

Guy threaded through Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” and Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar,” while telling another story and tacked his version of Cream’s “Strange Brew” to the end of that sequence.

Guy’s set list doesn’t so much go from one song to another as it meanders along punctuated by self-interruptions with one of his favorite phrases: “Now wait a minute, wait a minute!” Then everything spins off into another direction.

Guy has a playful sense of the absurd and he loves a lewd commentary where he can get away with one. So you know when he’s playing “74 Years Young,” he means every word of it.

He’s a crowd-pleasing performer in the old school tradition too. He came off the stage and sang his way all through the orchestra seats. The crowd loved it. And he loves them, too.

At one point, he brought out a young woman whom he’d met earlier and invited to play onstage with him. A random act of generosity, or all part of the show? Guy’s been known to do this sort of thing on tour.

Toward the end of the night he said, “I appreciate you coming out to hear the blues tonight,” and he sang the audience a love song. A torchy love song, sure. What’d you expect? But still.

“You’ll never know how much I love you … you give me fever” he sang. Before he was ready to call it a night, he made sure we believed it.


Jonny Lang (photo by Jon Santiago)


Budy Guy and Co. (photo by Jon Santiago)



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About the Author

Jon Santiago

is a freelance writer, photographer, and graphic designer based in Charleston, S.C. Every now and then, he hauls his guitar out to an open mic night and plays some original songs in public. He has been warned about this.

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