By Derek Gentile
Berkshire Eagle Staff
GREAT BARRINGTON -- The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center has become Blues Central this summer.
A few weeks ago, the theater hosted the eternal Buddy Guy and his protégé, Quinn Sullivan, for a rollicking show.
On Thursday night, another blues star, Jonny Lang, brought his crew into the Mahaiwe for a blues-gospel-rock blast that thrilled his audience.
An 11-song set doesn’t sound like much, especially when the venerable Beach Boys submitted a 42-number set a few days earlier.
But a Jonny Lang song is a mini set in itself at times, running anywhere from eight to 15 minutes long. The show itself was 2 1/2 hours, which might give a reader some idea of how Lang attacks a tune.
A better example was Lang’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s "Living For the City," which came midway through the show.
We began with an electric bluesy solo from Akil Thompson, the "other" guitar player in the band, but no slouch at all in his own right. Lang stepped to the mike and delivered a few verses, then ripped his own guitar solo.
He then stepped back and allowed keyboard player Dwan Hill to deliver a sort of psychedelic "Chest Fever" offering before finishing the song. Total time: 14:30.
If this all sounds indulgent and a bit much, it isn’t. Lang is an imaginative soloist and arranger. If there is one beef, it’s that sometimes, one doesn’t know when the song is actually finished.
But that is a mere bagatelle. Lang played the blues to open the set, with "Blew Up (The House)", the Tinsley Ellis cover "A Quitter Never Wins", "Turn Around" and Everything’s Gonna Be All Right".
But the latter part of the set showcased his superb vocal talents.
"Great Day" is a heartfelt gospel song that Lang soulfully presented before taking the band into the rocking "What You’re Looking For."
The encore was something else.
Lang came onstage alone, with an acoustic guitar and played "Breakin’ Me’’, a song about love and loss off 1998’s "Wander This World".
The song ended, and Lang, still alone on stage, segued into "Lie To Me", a big crowd favorite off his 1997 album of the same name.
The song began as another soulful dialog. But midway through the song, the band scurried back on stage, and while Thompson launched into a brief solo, a guitar tech took Lang’s acoustic guitar and gave him his Fender Telecaster Thinline and boom! We were off again. Same song different (by far) tempo. Very nice.
Opening act Runaway Saints submitted an energetic rhythmic set featuring songs bristling with hooks. The Nashville-based band was a solid lead-in to the main event.
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