Jonny Lang in Tokyo
with Jim Merk
It is no secret that I think David Byrne is rock's most important living
musical deity. It is also no
secret that I think Phish is one of rock's most talented group of performers. So imagine my delight when I hear Phish's latest release featuring the David Byrne song "Cities" being played as I wait for Jonny Lang to take the stage at Shibuya's Club Quattro. Definitely a good omen.
The praise and acclaim being heaped on this new star is unlike anything I have seen poured out for
a new performer. Everyone knows he is only 16, has been playing with a band for two years, has released a popular blues-based CD called Lie to Me, is the best thing for the blues since Stevie Ray Vaughn, is an unpretentious nice young kid, sings like he just finished an Aussie-sized pack of Marlboros, plays barefoot, opens for bands such as the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, understands the blues in a manner that belies his age and has a nice young girlfriend. What you don't know--unless you have seen him in concert--is just how amazingly well Jonny Lang creates memorable blues. Honestly, it is pretty amazing. At one point in the show, Jonny is due for a solo; you can see him thinking about a musical direction while he plays a 16th note arpeggiated chord. He absent-mindedly takes the arpeggio through the song's chord progressions--all while he is thinking of something else to play-- then his "fingers" realize something fun is going on here and the arpeggio leads him to a new solo that leaves even his seasoned bandmates shaking their heads in stunned appreciation. I give Jonny lots of credit for having very talented musicians around him and I give them credit for constantly challenging him in turn. At one point in the show, guitarist Paul Diethelm got to take a solo. He found a groove and worked it so hard, he actually snapped his base E string--that's not easy--and continued to wail... in key! The last time I saw that happen was when the great Buddy Guy was churning out a solo for an appreciative Tokyo audience.
The rest of the band was equally impressive. While I haven't the room to discuss every player's
talents in turn, it is a testament to their ability that they not only provided an adequate framework for Lang's incredible talent, but also got to shine in their own right. I wanted to ask them what it was like playing music with someone who probably can't realize just how good he is and is so modest about his extraordinary talent. I bet it's a blast.
Best of all, everybody was having so much fun on-stage that it spilled out to the audience. Tokyo
audiences are not known for their exuberance. Personally I think this is due to the relatively lackluster performances given by jet-lagged performers. But when motivated by gifted entertainers, audiences here do respond... just like they did for Jonny. I have no doubt we will be seeing lots more of Jonny; in fact if you are a movie buff, you can catch him appearing in the new Blues Brothers flick due out in February. Songs from his Tokyo concert will be on TV Tokyo later this year and, while he was here, the Disney Channel broadcast a live interview to the States.
But the best news is that he is starting work on a new CD for a late '98 release.
CDs, tours, movies, television.... yea, Jonny is on his way. Cool.