Jonny Lang lights up the Electric Factory

By Bill McFarland

Northeast Times Staff Writer

Lie to me
And tell me everything is all right.
Lie to me
And tell me that you're spending the night.

Lie To Me (A&M Records)

These are pretty heavy words coming from a 16-year-old, but the opening lines of the title track from his debut album introduced Jonny Lang to the mainstream. In the two years since then, the baby-faced blues guitarist has been on the road non-stop just like some of the masters that he emulates, and the work has paid off.

Lie To Me reached the top of the blues album charts in 1997 and stayed there for 19 weeks. Lang also caught the attention of more established acts and has toured with the likes of Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, Blues Travelers and one of his idols, B.B. King.

Just a few weeks past his 18th birthday (Jan. 29), the youngster arrived in Philadelphia with a new look and a new album to promote, Wander This World, and from the reaction of the crowd at the Electric Factory Sunday night, Lang is on the road toward bigger and better things.

During the teen-idol phase in the early days of the rock 'n' roll era, it didn't matter if an entertainer had any talent. If the girls thought he was attractive enough, they'd scream during the concerts and buy enough records to make it a hit.

Considering his age, Lang attracts some of that crowd. There were some teenage girls screaming through his 90-minute set, but the bulk of the audience was more than twice the age of the headliner, and some fans were considerably older.

Blues music tends to draw an older crowd, and Lang — maybe to conform to his audience — has shed the little-boy image. The long blond hair has been trimmed to a short, spiked cut, and he sported a tank top and a large tattoo on his right arm that made him look much older, at least from a distance.

His music already has a maturity far beyond his years. Lang took the stage at 9:45 p.m. and immediately had the crowd eating out of his hands. The set was equally mixed with tracks from both of his albums.

Lang paid homage to some of the past practitioners of the genre, such as Sonny Boy Williamson (Good Morning Little School Girl) and Ike Turner (Matchbox), and on another tune, you could close your eyes and imagine the King himself — that's B.B., not Elvis — as Lang plucked guitar riffs between the lines of a song. Included from his newer release were tunes such as Still Rainin' and Breakin' Me.

What's interesting to note is the strength of his band. Lang doesn't hesitate to give credit to his mates. Guitarist Paul Diethelm is every bit the equal of Lang, and the two of them even engaged in a guitar duel in the finale that nearly brought the house down. Keyboardist Bruce McCabe, who wrote Lie To Me and contributed other songs to the albums, was featured several times during the show, including a rousing rendition of Rack 'Em Up, as was bassist Doug Nelson. Drummer Billy Thommes rounds out the quintet.

After an hour-plus set, Lang and the band returned for a three-song encore, which included the title tracks from both albums.

If there was one complaint, it was the sound system. Early in the show, it was so muddy that the guitar solos were drowned out by the rhythm section. The sound mixer was able to correct that, fortunately, and all was forgiven by the time the concert ended.

B.B. King is the master of the blues because he's had the benefit of nearly 50 years on the road doing 200 shows a year. If this kid is so good now, how much better will Jonny Lang be in 20 years?

This review was published on March 10, 1999, in the Northeast Times in Philadelphia, which owns the copyright. It may not be reproduced anywhere else without permission.


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