Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band: How I Go About Riffing Riffing And More Riffing E-mail
by Bruce Madden

The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band (KWSB) arrived at the Intersection on December 13, 2011 prepared to rock the joint but following an old rock concert tradition the band had to wait a bit before beginning their massive sonic onslaught. By night's end KWSB turned the concert stage into a pile of smoking debris and rubble. More on that later.

Opening bands usually get the raw end of the deal during brief stage appearances at such events. Call it a rite of passage. Local acts hope to make an impression, add to their fan base and if lucky, rise to the top of the heap in their hometowns.

Traditionally, the musicians appearing before the headliner receive polite applause but often they are ignored. A worse fate than that though is once the headliner storms the stage burning the opening band's moment to cinders and ash, most concert attendees acquire a kind of collective amnesia: Hey who opened for KWSB?

It was evident that The Thirsty Perch Blues Band (TPBB) had some allies in the crowd. A few of their loyal fans jumped to their feet perhaps a little too exuberantly after nearly every song but more importantly for this West Michigan band, the group did make some new friends among strangers. Many in the crowd really liked this band. Dare I say it? You could feel the love. Oh god, I've said it. But that really did happen.

Normally, the Thirsty Perch Blues Band works as a four piece group that churns out a middle-of-the-road white boy blues rock sound but they wisely added a special guest to their line-up for this show. Their secret weapon was Andrew Ogrodzinski, Grand Rapids guitarist extraordinaire. His tasty, fiery solos boosted the band's efforst from just an opening act fleeting memory to a group that commanded a large portion of the crowd's attention.

Opening act soundman plug: The soundman, often the unsung hero of concert events provided an excellent mix for the TPBB and that can be the difference between life and death for any band. More on that later.

Shepherd and his band walked on stage at 8:48 pm and within seconds, the trim, blonde blues rocker demolished the memories of the TPBB predecessors with flourishes of rhythmic lead and intense guitar riffing. We would expect no less. Vocalist, and 14 year band member, Noah Hunt's salty vocals infused the opening number and every one that followed with a soulful counterpoint to Shepherd's technically dazzling riffwork.

Headliner soundman oddity: One never knows what is going on behind the soundboard during concerts. Running sound is an artform, almost magic but the sound for KWSB throughout the night was not as clear as the TPBB. Usually, it's the other way around. Near the end of the 23-song concert, the sound radically improved but the playing took a different turn at that point and that may be the explanation for it's sudden clarity and impact.

The crowd ate up every KWSB song including new songs from his latest effort How I Go, old tunes from past albums and a handful of covers. The band knew the crowd accorded them the you-can-do-wrong status so members danced around together on stage, sometimes a little too pre-programmed for me but hey, it's a little bit of show business tradition, too I suppose.

WARNING: This is where the review portion goes south so if you don't want to read further, then maybe you should just stop right now and revel in your own memories.

No question the KWSB brings powerful chops to their appearances and on this tour Stevie Ray Vaughan drummer Chris Layton sits on the drum throne, but seriously how many times does Shepherd have to basically devolve into a miasma of furious riff pounding, one fast note after the other that eventually jumble themselves up into a sonic ball of loud mush?

Okay, so maybe it wasn't the soundman. It very likely was Shepherd's similar and extended lead extravaganzas that stretched beyond tasteful by virtue of their disconnection from the emotional aspects one finds in the blues and to a lesser extent in blues rock. This formulaic technique trap appeared in nearly every song and sounded the same each time it was used, and that was pretty much all the time. Too much blues rock bravado and not enough thoughtful connection to feeling. Technique, technique, technique does not a soulful guitarist make.

Two songs that seemed to defy the pattern were his hit "Blue On Black" and the cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child." Solos on "Blue On Black" were tight and Shepherd explored various themes on "Voodoo Child" with a free hand toward improvisation and joy not evident in most of the other earlier songs. That tune closed the show.

Bruce Madden is the former entertainment czar for Music Revue and founding member of the blues group The T-BONES. He is currently living in self-imposed exile at an undisclosed location, creating music and photographing subjects of interest. Photos also by Bruce Madden.


Published: December 15, 2011

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