A five-time Grammy nominated blues-rock artist with southern ties can almost guarantee electrifying live performances. For Kenny Wayne Shepherd, you can’t argue with that statement in his latest work.
Straight To You Live features the Shepherd and his band in their first live concert DVD performance at the Leverkusen Jazzstage in Germany. The live showcase coincided with their touring promotion of the 2019 album The Traveler.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic had tragically cut the tour short but not before the group had a chance to film this concert. The beautifully transpired picture and perfectly placed camera angles make the viewers feel as though they’re in attendance. Through the group’s cutting-edge sound and masterful production, they release one of the greatest musical performances of the year.
Shepherd has always been known to unveil greatness and effortless ability to shred a guitar. The mogul manager, Irving Azoff, recognized his talent and had him signed to a record label at the just 13-years-old. Since then, the Louisiana native powered his way in a genre that had not seen mainstream success in nearly a decade. Accompanied by the musical talents of vocalist Noah Hunt and his bandmates, Shepherd’s aggressive charisma shined brighter onstage. The band fed the soul of starving blues-rock enthusiasts for what was their latest European tour. In the concert’s opener they bring the heat with “Woman Like You”. The single from their last album tears down the minimalist stage setup with backing horns and Shepherd leading the mission.
The bands tight sound and easy transition between songs blend each track into one symphonic arrangement. They immediately jump into the next song on the setlist after a wild opener. The horns shine without overpowering the other members in the “Mr. Soul”. The Buffalo Springfield cover is a heavier rendition with Shepherd’s Stratocaster making it into a rock odyssey. Viewers get to experience just one of Shepherd’s many bone-freezing guitar solos and show stealing sound. But the ensemble performance showcases that each member knows when to stand out and when to fall back into the band.
The band continues to throw out prime performances the deeper they get into their set. Doing it while dressed in all black. But while the band can easily prolong a song, its Shepherd that can make it last forever. In “SHAME, SHAME, SHAME” we not only see Hunt’s gusto on vocals but Shepherd’s laidback swing transform to controlled chaos. Each member gives their own smooth performances and express how they can fuse their sound into the group. Similar to every other song, the individuals show what makes them unique and necessary for the band.
Even as the concert begins to whine down Shepherd’s riveting performance doesn’t stop or slow. The ability to thrill an entire crowd for hours on end is almost too rare to find in a live performer. But this is what has made Shepherd’s career so electric with his intensity and loose guitar fades. Though, he’s spent much of the night wowing everyone on guitar, he gives Hunt a break on singing and takes over the mic. “Talk To Me Baby” is where Shepherd shares not only his “favorite old blues song by Elmore James” but also his talent as a singer. Shepherd shows that his ability to belt out notes with the horns is only outmatched by the dancing guitar. But no one is left prepared for how the band closes the concert.
To anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar will often refer to one man being the greatest to even hold one. Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” is often considered to be one of if not the greatest rock song of all time. Its mesmerizing riffs and explosive solos lead it to be one of the most difficult guitars to cover. But Shepherd doesn’t seem to think it’s all that difficult and he makes it look too easy. Being one of the exceptional few who can do it justice, Shepherd possesses the soul of Hendrix for one night of toxic shredding. But this performance wouldn’t be as complete or large without its tight, formulaic rhythm section. As the band members had done for the entire night, they share a notion with the viewers. Apart, they’re incredible musicians and performers. But together, they’re one of the best live bands the world has to offer.
Written by Trenton Luber