Friday, November 05, 1999

CONCERT REVIEW


Shepherd rocks Bogart's with sound of his own

BY LARRY NAGER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “Is there life after Stevie?” was the question posed Thursday night at Bogart's. The club hosted a sold-out show featuring two blues-based guitarists with close ties to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan.

        The worshipful crowd of 1,464 was there to see the headlining Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, led by the 22-year-old guitarist who began his career as a teen-age Stevie clone.

        He has since developed more of his own sound. But it was when he did the full guitar-hero routine on Fleetwood Mac's “Oh Well” and his finale, Jimi Hendrix's “Voodoo Chile,” that his older, predominantly male crowd exploded in paroxysms of air-guitar ecstasy.

        Mr. Shepherd's biggest asset in moving away from Stevie's shadow is his versatile lead singer, Cincinnatian Noah Hunt. He has a big enough voice to handle such blustery blues-rock as “Shame, Shame, Shame,” “Deja Voodoo” (both from the group's 1995 debut, Ledbetter Heights) and “Shotgun Blues” (from the new Live On).

        But he's also able to take the group into a more mainstream rock direction, as he did on the band's biggest hit, “Blue On Black,” and the new ballad “Last Goodbye” (which was marred Thursday by serious distortion in the sound system).

        Dark and solidly built, he's also a good visual complement to the pale, wispy guitarist. Mr. Hunt worked the hometown fans well, getting them to sing “Blue On Black” and keeping their focus on Mr. Shepherd.

        The KWSB was leaner this time out — no keyboards, just Mr. Shepherd's Stratocasters, Mr. Hunt's occasional acoustic rhythm guitar, Keith Christopher's bass and Sam Bryant's drums.

        The cleaner sound worked most effectively on the lyrical, Hendrix-influenced instrumental, “Electric Lullaby.”

        Mr. Shepherd has shown a desire to forge a modern blues-rock sound, one that expands upon the great bands of the '60s. But the question remains whether his audience will let him stray too much from the guitar-hero gospel according to Stevie.

        Like Mr. Shepherd, opening act Doyle Bramhall II has also recorded with the Vaughan rhythm section, Double Trouble — in his case, in an actual touring band, the Arc Angels. He and his band Bramhall did one of the better Arc Angel songs, the Austin blues shuffle “Shape I'm In,” during his well-received 50-minute set.

        The Austin native, whose father was Mr. Vaughan's good friend and songwriting partner, is also trying to move away from his blues roots. Mr. Bramhall's sound is based more in a singer-songwriter style, albeit one featuring plenty of hot guitar solos. But he also threw in some nicely textured fingerpicking.

        However, limited by undistinctive singing and songwriting, his performance only caught fire when he let his guitar take the spotlight.

       



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