(Current entries)

(All Reviews Since 2004)

Leave feedback

Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The House of Blues, New Orleans, October 5th 2008

House of blues
It could be the most disconcerting thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m in the urinals, and the gentleman next to me, eyes pointed purposefully on the porcelain, says “Jeez, this one’s gonna be the hottest I’ve had for years”. What could I say? After all, I’m in a foreign country.
He turns to catch my eye. As they say in these parts, I shoot him a glance. “I mean the gig. Jonny Lang. Saw him when he was a boy in St Louis. Man, he’s the hottest young guitar player I’ve ever seen. Plays like a dream, sings good too, like an old blues man. Me and my buddies, we’re in town for the football game, we’re from up state. Man, we’ve been drinking like hogs since we got here Friday night. Can you believe this place? Where y’all from?”
We’re in New Orleans, thankfully a somewhat less blighted city than when we last visited just twelve months after the devastating Hurricane Katrina, but still a shadow of its former glory. We’ve just feasted Cajun-style in what seems to be the one busy Sunday night restaurant - andouille, red beans and rice with smoked sausage, alligator strips, blackened fish and smothered turnip greens. And now we’re in the House of Blues.
New Orleans
It’s part of the chain originally set up by Hard Rock Café founder Isaac Tigrett and actor and sometimes Blues Brother Dan Ackroyd, which, you may recall, famously rescued Muddy Waters’ sharecropper shack at Stovall Plantation from dereliction. But now, like most things it seems, House of Blues (but not the shack) is owned by Live Nation. For many, HOB represents perhaps one of the worst manifestations of Corporate Rock, including collaborations with hotel chains and casinos, And many might wonder at the expanding influence of businesses like Live Nation, with through-the-line interests from artist management, to promotion, to venue ownership. Just read the slogan on the back of the matching T-shirts worn by the two rather militant ladies we saw somewhere – “The home of the blues is in the Delta, not a restaurant’. But the fact remains that they’re capable of bringing medium-name headliners to venues such as this, which local promoters would probably find difficult to do. And despite the burgeoning economic meltdown, which seems to dominate every restaurant and breakfast table conversation we overhear, this place is absolutely packed. But it is a football weekend, and without doubt it’s a football crowd.
Jonny Lang is as described in the restrooms: a veritable child prodigy of the blues. Having started to play when he was around twelve, he recorded his first major album, Lie to Me, in 1997 at the age of fifteen. You have to listen to this one to understand just how good it is – naturally razor-sharp guitar playing from the school of Stevie Ray Vaughan and an astonishingly mature voice with a soulful growl reminiscent of Joe Cocker at his best. Fifteen? Don’t believe me? Buy the record and see. Sadly, in the ten years since then, during which time Lang has toured the USA remorselessly, his music has veered towards the sadly predictable watered-down soul-rock so beloved of American audiences. Jonny Lang
It’s not that Lang’s prodigious talents have diminished in any way, rather that they have been somewhat wasted on material clearly designed to seek out a wider audience, and in particular to win airplay time on the hugely commercially important but mind-numbingly anodyne radio play lists. Just listen to ‘Red light’ to see what I mean. But the songs from his last two albums, Long Time Coming and Turn Around, are just the stuff for a largely inebriated, arm-waving and whooping New Orleans football audience. However, I was prepared to give Mr Lang the benefit of the doubt – on stage he’s a charming, modest and genuine sort of guy, still with the winning smile of a teenager, and when he plays (and my goodness, how he plays) a grimace worthy of the finest blues guitarists. But the predictability and blandness of the material was wearing, and the balance finally tipped against his favour after a lengthy cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living for the city’, which in a sense gave the game away, and left your reviewer and companion leaving in search of some of Scotland’s very finest midnight wine.
Now, Serge, we’re on the road heading for the Delta. We’ve taken all the money that was left in the special Whiskyfun Icelandic bank account (not as much, I’m sure, as we deposited) and bought a fabulous second-hand Whiskeyfun trailer for our trip, though I have to admit it’s a bit of a bugger to manoeuvre. We’re in the land of real whiskey, and real food to match. And heading north on Highway 61 and the Great River Road, past the half-harvested fields of cotton and soya beans, and through largely forgotten and impoverished communities with isolated churches scattered on lonely roadsides, I can’t help wondering whether, that in addition to being the root of everything that’s best in music, there isn’t a prescient and timeless spiritual wisdom here, that can sort of see what’s coming. - Nick Morgan (most photographs by Nick and Kate) Whiskey
Listen: Jonny Lang's MySpace page.

Check the index of all reviews:
Nick's Concert Reviews


There's nothing more down there...


Drink Blog Code