Unplugged and still rockin’
BEAVER CREEK – Watching Jonny Lang perform live is like witnessing Dr. Jekyll turn into Mr. Hyde.When Jonny rips on the guitar his face winces and grimaces. His feet stomp and shake in joyous convulsions. His cheek bones pulse and closed eyes twitch as if fighting but giving way to the spirit inside him.
But then the song ends. The strong thrusts of his arm cease against the frets. Jonny gently rests his guitar on his lap and squares to the microphone. A huge smile leaps across his peach-fuzzed face, and he shyly asks the audience how they’re doing tonight. His grizzly singing voice is replaced by a sweet soprano. One that better suits his boy-band good looks. The fierceness and intensity of Mr. Hyde quickly returns with the onset of Dr. Jonny’s next tune.Jonny played for a sold out crowd at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek Tuesday night. For this tour, Jonny has closeted his electric guitar for a more intimate acoustic show. All the musicians play sitting down. The switch didn’t stifle his amazing talent, but I kept whispering to myself asking Jonny to rock out. I don’t think I was the only one in the crowd that missed – even just a little bit – the electrifying music of his plugged-in show. Although he did jam out one song on his weathered electric and several tunes on his National Steel Guitar.
The acoustic concert really showed Jonny and his band’s versatility. The musicians switched effortlessly between instruments from violin to keyboard to slide guitar. Jonny blew the crowd away on the keys, and pretty boy Reeve Carney (guitarist, vocals and keys) stole the spotlight while playing the slide. Percussionist Luke Fisher added texture with his customized black box of synthesized drum triggers.Jonny’s heart in blues was still pumping, but the acoustic show brought out the pop in his love songs. Jonny, now 24, was recently married to actress Haylie Johnson and wrote a lot of the tunes on “Long Time Coming” about the relationship. These truly acoustic songs emphasized Jonny’s voice and told the stories that most blues songs are built around.
But “Wedding Day” was just too cheesy for me. It was the only moment of the night my mind wandered. The rest of the time I was fixated on Jonny’s fretwork and passion. Like the rest of the crowd, I was stunned into stillness by Jonny’s raw music abilities.Jonny revealed his age after playing “You’ve Got A Friend” and said, “I always loved that song, but I could never do it as well as him.” Carol King actually wrote the heavily-covered tune, and the guitarist quickly patched his mistake by saying, “or her,” and then quipped about his age. The band also did a funky rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Have A Talk With God.” The encore brought three songs and an appearance by Jonny’s guitar tech Eric Cartwright, who furiously jammed a solo.
The funniest moment of the night came from a voice in the very back of the Vilar theater. As silence blanketed the room, she screamed, “Jonny you’re hot.” And Jonny laughed and said he was thankful for being sunburned from skiing, alluding to his apparent blush.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or firstname.lastname@example.org.