Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band Excites A Nearly Sold Out Crowd At Grand Falls Casino Saturday Night
I've been a fan of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band since he showed up on the national blues scene as a teenager in the mid 1990s. Now 37 years old and playing with a stellar band, Shepherd is playing better, and with more passion, than I've seen in his career.
Shepherd played Grand Falls Casino Saturday night (June 28) to a near-capacity crowd and had us eating out of his hand right away with fan favorites like "Everything Is Broken" and "Somehow, Somewhere, Someway".
But for the first time in a LONG time, Kenny is finding his voice again by singing lead on a few songs. The band's new album, "Goin' Home" is a tribute album to many of the band's influences like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King and Bo Diddley. I recognized the opening riff of "The House is Rockin'" from Stevie Ray Vaughan right away and of course smiled since Vaughan's drummer, Chris "Whipper" Layton has been drumming with Shepherd since 2006. But what we weren't expecting was to hear Shepherd sing lead. And do it well! With a powerhouse vocalist like Noah Hunt in the band, it's tough to match that intensity, but Shepherd's Louisiana roots showed through on his leads and it added a cool dimension to the set.
Shepherd is playing REALLY well right now as well. I talked to several musicians after the show whose opinions I value and they said the same thing. Not only is Shepherd obviously very talented, but they're in the midst of a tour that has them playing 4-5 nights a week which really gets the band playing well and it showed.
But it was a seemingly new found passion in Shepherd's playing last night that struck me. He's playing really inspired right now. And if you look at what he's been up to and who he's been playing with for the past 12-18 months, you can see why.
The band included a couple of songs in their set from Shepherd's side band "The Rides" which released an album titled "Can't Get Enough" last year. Shepherd is in that band with Stephen Stills (a really underrated guitar player in my opinion, of Crosby, Stills and Nash fame) and Barry Goldberg. The songs were a very cool surprise in the setlist.
Shepherd also spent a couple of months on the Experience Hendrix tour (and will again this fall) playing Jimi Hendrix music on a bill with other incredible guitar talents like: Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Doyle Bramhall II, David Hidalgo, Ana Popovic, Taj Mahal, and a friend of Shepherd's that you know from South Dakota: Indigenous' Mato Nanji.
And then you cap off those experiences with some of the guests on the band's latest album Goin' Home: Warren Haynes (Haynes and his band Gov't Mule will headline JazzFest here in Sioux Falls July 19) Joe Walsh (who headlined JazzFest two summers ago) Robert Randolph (who was at JazzFest in 2012) Ringo Starr and others.
It certainly seems to have raised the bar for Shepherd and based on last night's performance, he's responded in a BIG way. He played a lot of notes and he played them VERY well! And again, when he's assembled a fantastic band with the previously mentioned Hunt and Layton, plus bassist Tony Franklin and standout keyboard player Riley Osbourn. I told my wife during the show that the first time I saw Franklin play, Kenny Wayne Shepherd was about 8 years old. Franklin was playing bass in The Firm with Paul Rodgers of Bad Company, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Chris Slade of AC/DC. Needless to say, Franklin is a monster player and the five members look like they're having fun and it comes through in the music.
I went through Facebook this morning and have seen post after post from people who were in attendance last night and had a great time. My personal preference would be to see the band in an outdoor setting because the music makes you want to get up and move, but to get the opportunity to see a band really hitting their stride in our corner of the world, I'll take it anyway I can.