It’s halfway through Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s Forum Melbourne show last Saturday night (October 6th) and I noticed that the crowd had still not gone wild. Except for maybe the young guy upfront to my left near the stage playing air guitar, almost everyone else was quietly swaying or head bopping in their seat. It’s not that they weren’t excited to have blues rock legend Shepherd back in Melbourne, it’s because they were in a trance-like state, as Shepherd played his guitar with such fierce intensity, passion and energy, that it seemed to be out of one’s mind to do anything else.
Earlier on in the night, Australia’s very own blues virtuoso, Ash Grunwald, warmed up the KWS crowd with an enjoyable set. Not even breaking his guitar’s strings before playing a solitary note dampened his mood. He just smiled and joked about falling foul to the Forum ghost and carried on like a true professional. His jovial mood was actually quite infectious, as was his excitement in supporting one of blues rock biggest musicians. I recalled Grunwald saying something about it being his first big support gig since he played with The Black Keys. Just goes to show even a season musician like Grunwald can be humbled by an occasion as rare as a Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band show Down Under. (Shepherd was last here some six years ago.)
The night opened with Somehow, Somewhere, Someway, with Shepherd’s wailing guitar instantly hitting the mark and sending a shudder through the Forum Theatre. Next came True Lies and as expected, a host of other Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band crowd-pleasing hits with frontman Noah Hunt expertly working the room.
For the most part Shepherd was happy to sit back and play guitar, but it was exciting to see him share vocal duties with longtime friend Noah Hunt, especially for the fan-favourite cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan House is Rockin’ and one of his newest songs Diamonds & Gold. Interestingly, it’s been noted that Shepherd seems a lot more confident these days singing. That said, it’s a shame he didn’t sing and play the title track from Lay It On Down, but I guess with no acoustic guitar in sight it was always going to be a very bluesy kind of night!
My own suspicions were confirmed shortly after when Shepherd said, “You all came to the right place because we all love playing the blues. And not everything we always do is traditional blues but the blues is the foundation of everything that we do. But at least one or twice every night we’re got to break it down nice and quiet to play some good old fashion blues.” Then when he asked “Are you with me?” We all burst out in a collective yes.
Such is Shepherd’s influence over modern blues rock that his captivated Melbourne audience eagerly looked to anticipate his every move but in true Shepherd style he left plenty of room for improvisation, especially on BB King’s You Done Lost Your Good Thing, Shotgun Blues and Muddy water’s I’m a King Bee.
All in all it was a sublime blues rock night performance from Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his trusty band. I even enjoyed hearing an amazing B.B. King story told by Noah Hunt. But it was Joe Krown on keys who almost stole the night with some outstanding solo work on keys. And while, I’m a King Bee would have been a fitting end to the night, it wasn’t to be, as the mesmerised crowd eventually got out of their seats and roared for more. With an encore never really in doubt, the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band returned to play Shepherd’s signature hit song Blue On Black and Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child.