The crowd this Thursday, September 19, 2019 at New Jersey’s Newton Theatre is ready to let their hair down for a live concert appearance by blues phenom, singer/songwriter Jonny Lang.
Lang, 38, was born Jon Gordon Langseth in Fargo, North Dakota. He started to teach himself how to play the guitar at the age of 12. Capable of performing everything from modern hits to classic rock, he impressed his friends with his accurate recreation of Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Once his father took him to see a local Fargo group of musicians, The Bad Medicine Blues Band, Jonny started taking music lessons from the group’s guitarist. Several months later, he joined the ensemble which they renamed Kid Jonny Lang and The Big Bang, changing Langseth’s name in the process.
At the age of 14, Lang and the band independently released their first album, Smokin’, and at 15, he was signed to A&M Records and recorded his first solo album, Lie to Me, which climbed to #1 on Billboard’s New Artist chart and went platinum. At the age of 17, Lang created Wander This World, which earned him his first Grammy nomination, and in 2006, his gospel-influenced Turn Around won him his first Grammy. After a seven-year hiatus from recording, in 2013, Lang released Fight for My Soul. His latest album is his 2017 effort, Signs.
Since he started touring, Lang has shared the stage with such prominent artists as Aerosmith, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, The Rolling Stones, and Sting. In 2004, Eric Clapton personally invited Lang to perform at the Crossroads Guitar Festival, a charity event which Clapton leads.
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These days, Lang often appears along with other artists as a part of the Experience Hendrix Tour, a concert which pays tribute to the guitar legend, and he also travels with his own band consisting of drummer Barry Alexander, bassist James Anton, keyboardist Tyrus Sass, and guitarist Zane Carney.
The lights dim and opening act Zane Carney takes the stage, welcoming the crowd and informing them that he not only was a child actor who turned professional musician, but he’s also a close friend of Jonny Lang with whom he will be playing tonight.
Carney opens his six-song set with “Hitchhiking,” an original number on which he strums his guitar and passionately sings, “What do you got to lose, baby?” before playing along to tracks that he records live. His classical-influenced solo builds and morphs back into the vocal portion of the song bringing applause from the crowd.
Carney’s voice pleads as he sings the gritty and bluesy “Talk to Me Baby,” the crowd responding to his dynamic performance with hoots and hollers as they clap along to his bluesy solo.
Following “I Wanna Have Faith Again,” Carney explains that he played in the Broadway pit orchestra of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark with music by Bono and The Edge and then launches into a cover version of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” As he records his guitar, he layers his sounds altering the textures and timbres of each successive voice before making his sweet falsetto float over the symphony of guitars he’s created.
The crowd applauds and Carney responds with a story song, “You’re Not the One,” before concluding his set with a blur of strumming notes and rhythm on the mysterious “Fade to Black.” Singing “See how it weeps/And the tears do come/And fall upon your knees/It’s not so easy/When you’re only choice is just to/Let it go,” the audience cheers, looking forward to Carney’s return with Jonny Lang and his band following intermission.
After a short break, the lights again dim and Jonny Lang takes the stage along with Zane Carney on rhythm guitar, Tyrus Sass on keyboards, Barry Alexander on drums, and James Anton on bass. Opening with the upbeat and bluesy rocker “Blew Up the House,” Lang and the band impress with their raw energy and talent.
Singing with his soulful and gravelly voice, “Honey, I blew up the house/Just to watch it burn,” Lang follows up with a fiery guitar solo before lights flash and smoke rises to signal the start of the next song.
Driving drums punctuate the groove of the funky blues number, “Don’t Stop (For Anything).” Heads bop in the audience as they watch Lang and Carney work their guitar magic accompanying the soulful vocals of Jonny Lang while he belts out the tune’s catchy refrain, “I roll like a freight train/I blow like a hurricane/Yeah, I run like a Mustang/Don’t stop for anything.”
Lang writhes to his guitar solo, his facial movements an extension of his music.
Giving the audience all he’s got and more, the crowd gleefully responds with cheers, whistles, and applause as they energetically rise to their feet.
Without a moment’s pause, the band continues into the next song — the title song from his newest album, Signs — and the groove slows down to that of a dirty blues.
Channeling the soul of Al Green, Lang sings with his eyes closed — at times, his voice a wail from deep within — before letting the music flow from inside him directly to his listeners through his masterful guitar playing.
Raw, edgy, and thoroughly engaging, the lights stop and start in sync with the bands tight breaks.
A spotlight shines on the audience as Lang welcomes the crowd saying, “How’s everybody feeling tonight?”
Next, he and the band perform a number from Lie to Me, “A Quitter Never Wins.” Slowing things down and crooning directly for the crowd, bending strings as he sings, Lang performs with pure emotion.
Lang’s guitar sings fast and bluesy as he solos under changing blue, green, red, purple, and white lights, accompanied by Tyrus Sass on keyboards who plays piano before adding an organ sound to the mix.
The audience responds with cheers and applause as they follow Lang and Co. on this musical odyssey where drummer Barry Alexander’s massive biceps rap a piston fire ending.
The crowd explodes and Lang exclaims, “You guys are awesome — thank you!” to which a fan screams out, “We love you, Jonny!”
The audience catches its breath during “Rack ‘Em Up,” a slow jazzy swing number which features James Anton on a tasty electric bass solo on which he walks up and down before playing double time to the hammering drum beat of Barry Alexander’s sticks played on metal rims.
During the song, Jonny says, “Come on, Zane!” and Carney impresses on a jazzy guitar solo, also playing double time.
Tyrus Sass impresses with a solo in which he plays the exact notes on two keyboards at the same time before Lang solos, picking with his thumb and scatting simultaneously on his jazz guitar while accompanied by his talented band.
Ending to cheers, the group immediately segues into “Snakes,” another number from Lang’s latest recording, Signs.
While lights flash, distorted guitars wail and scream to the driving beat as Lang sings, “There’s snakes in that grass/Snakes in that grass!”
Following hoots and hollers, Lang says, “How about a round of applause for these fellas on the stage?” before introducing the members of his band and thanking all of his crew members in addition to the audience.
Next up is a highlight of tonight’s show — Lang and Co.’s rendition of “Red Light.”
Jonny introduces the song playing softly and wistfully with the rhythm section before picking up the pace on the engaging “You can run a red light, Give up at a red light/You break the molds, when running through the tolls/Speeding through your whole life” refrain.
Alexander’s bass drum booms as the vocals soften and the song winds to the next level of cool with haunting vocals and almost nonexistent accompaniment.
Picking with his thumb and crying with his voice as he tells his story with feeling, the accompaniment of the rhythm section sounds like church bells.
Lang’s falsetto voice floats above the music as he sings his blues away crooning “Everything’s gonna be alright” and inviting the audience to sing along on this uplifting revival-like spiritual.
Heads bop and sway to the joyful noise as they watch Lang smile through this segment with infectious intensity, bringing audience members to their feet.
The piece continues as Zane Carney solos on his guitar and drummer Barry Alexander supports him while couples dance at their seats in tacit approval.
Ultimately, the band returns for a final “Red Light” refrain to an explosion of cheers and applause.
Lang and the band follow up by continuing the fireworks with a funky and bluesy rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Living For the City.”
The audience sings along as Sass’s keyboard swirls along with colored lights overhead and Lang handles the soulful lead before bending his strings and shaking his guitar, making it dance while it interprets the melody of this timeless R&B song.
With the rhythm continuing, the band segues into the compelling “Still Rainin.’”
Echoing the sound of James Brown, Lang soulfully sings, “Look out my window it’s still rainin’/Look out my window it’s still rainin.’”
Spotlights circle behind the musicians as the sound whirls and swirls on this soulful number with a driving beat, compelling audience members to move freely to the music that surrounds them.
Cheers and whistles emanate from the standing crowd as Lang holds his guitar up and exits the stage.
The enthusiastic applause continues until Lang returns joking, “You guys can get down! This song is called ‘Bring Me Back Home.’”
With its soft emotional beginning, Lang picks a high and twangy guitar solo. Channeling the spirit of Luther VanDross, Lang sings his heart out on this first encore number, and he and his guitar become one as his band solidly accompanies him.
Bringing his song to the people, he leaves the audience feeling a deep connection to Jonny Lang, his band, and his music.
Following cheers, his band members take leave of the stage and Lang switches over to acoustic guitar for his second encore number of the evening, “Breakin’ Me.”
Wiping his brow, he softly fingerpicks the intro before singing, “Every day I see your face I wish I’d stayed/Don’t even know what made me run away/It’s just the way I play the game.”
Standing alone, he sings his story prior to strumming an interlude and segueing into his third and final encore, “Lie to Me.” The crowd responds with hoots and hollers.
Using dynamics, vocal control, and expert mic technique, Lang reels the crowd into the song and the band returns to play rough and dirty as he belts out, “Lie to me, go ahead and lie to me!” before shredding a solo on his Fender Telecaster.
Heads bop along to Lang and Co. as they take the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride, the song and performance expanding into a rocking frenzy of lights and sounds.
The crowd leaps to its feet as Lang gives a shout out to each of his bandmates and then concludes by saying “I’m Jonny Lang — goodnight!” to the cheering throng before he and the musicians leave the stage.
As audience members make their way out of the Newton Theatre auditorium, we get an opportunity to chat with two members of Jonny Lang’s band — guitarist Zane Carney and keyboardist Tyrus Sass.
Says Carney, “I’ve known Jonny ever since we were 12 years old.” Acknowledging, “I started out as an actor,” Carney explains, “I was on television on a show called Dave’s World — it was about columnist Dave Barry, and starred Harry Anderson — and I played the dark-haired kid, Tommy Barry.”
Carney further notes, “Now I’m a musician, and I’ve been playing with Jonny for two years, and he even asked me to open for him this evening.”
When asked how he enjoys getting to perform on stage each night with his childhood friend, Carney exclaims, “I love it — Jonny gives it 100% every single show.”
Likewise, keyboardist Tyrus Sass notes, “I’ve been playing with Jonny for two years.” When asked how he enjoyed performing for tonight’s Jersey crowd, Sass replies, “They were very enthusiastic and very present; it was a great audience!” before adding, “And I really like the Newton Theatre. It’s just the right size — making it a very personable experience where we, as the band, could really connect with the audience.”
As we wrap up our chat with Sass, an audience member, Vanessa from the Poconos, recognizes Sass and spontaneously exclaims to him, “Jonny shreds it and you guys kicked a**!”
When we ask Vanessa to elaborate on her comment, she reveals, “I’ve known about Jonny Lang for a long time, but this was the the first time I’ve ever seen him play. He and his band were absolutely beyond my expectations,” before adding, “And Jonny Lang? What can I say? If Eric Clapton says he can play, he can play!”
Atanas from New Brunswick agrees explaining, “This was my third Jonny Lang show and I loved it! My wife discovered Jonny Lang 20 years ago and I’ve been following him ever since. He’s full of energy and he’s a great guitarist, a great singer, and a great performer.”
Tracy from Hopatcong concurs exclaiming, “This is my third Jonny Lang show and it was outstanding!”
Continuing, “He’s like a legend — he’s always out of this world, and his face says it all — he’s always in the moment,” Tracy concludes by stating, “And I loved seeing him here at the Newton Theatre. It has great seats and sound, which makes me very happy to be a local.”
Lori from Vernon calls Jonny Lang’s performance tonight, “Fantastic.” Recalling, “I’ve been following him for 20 years,” Lori recalls, “The first time I saw him was in 1999 when he was just 18 and he opened for Jeff Beck. Since then, I’ve seen him several times here at the Newton Theatre,” before concluding, “Now we bring our kids to see him — we’re multiple generations of fans.”
Gloria from Newton concurs asserting, “I’ve been following Jonny Lang for 20 years, also — since he was a kid. Altogether, I’ve seen him six times. He doesn’t seem to age. He’s wonderful — very soulful. I give him an A+!”
Lastly, we chat with Dale from Newton who’s says, “Before tonight, I didn’t know a thing about Jonny Lang. My friend had an extra ticket and asked me to come along, and I did because I happen to like guitarists.”
When asked to share her thoughts about Jonny Lang’s performance tonight, Dale gets right to the point unabashedly exclaiming, “He was f***ing awesome!”
To learn more about Jonny Lang, please go to jonnylang.com. For information about future performances at The Newton Theatre — including Don McLean on November 22, Joan Osborne’s Dylanology on December 1, and Blood, Sweat and Tears on December 8 — please click on thenewtontheatre.com.Photos by Love Imagery
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