Jonny Lang played Grand Falls Casino in Larchwood, Iowa Saturday night (March 23) to a sold out crowd of 1100. The show at times had the audience on their feet and swaying to the beat, and at other times left the crowd, made up largely of longtime fans like me, scratching our heads, wondering what happened to our bluesman from Fargo, North Dakota.

I've been a fan of Jonny's since seeing him in the Twin Cities at an outdoor festival as Kid Jonny Lang and the Big Bang around 1995. His debut Lie To Me came out the next year and his star was made at just 16 years old. I've been fortunate enough to see Jonny maybe a dozen times over the years: opening for the Rolling Stones in the Fargodome, to the Sioux Falls Convention Center (with a young Bernard Allison opening the show) to the Washington Pavilion, to headlining JazzFest in 2008, to several shows with Buddy Guy. Lang had always delivered the goods. A great guitar-driven blues show. But over the past couple of years, the shows started to change a bit.

I don't want to thwart artist expression and their wants and needs to grow as an artist and performer, but when you go in with certain expectations, it's a set up to disappointment. In talking to a number of people in the audience Saturday night, fans were very happy when Lang ripped into the Blues on A Quitter Never Wins and Angel of Mercy. Women in the audience have loved Red Light since it was released and it will be a staple in his shows. His take on Stevie Wonder's Livin' For The City is always a crowd favorite as well.

But there were long stretches of the show where you wonder if Jonny is taking more of a jazz turn in his musical style. It was during those stretches we saw longer lines at the beer stand and bathrooms and more than average 'table talk' in the audience. It was evident that the crowd was there to see and hear Jonny Lang: Blues man.

He came back for an encore by himself with just an acoustic guitar and broke into his signature hit Lie To Me (which he didn't do when we saw him with Buddy Guy in Council Bluffs, Iowa last summer). It excited and confused the crowd at the same time. In fact the guy next to me started yelling for the full band to come out. Luckily they did and electrified the song and the audience.

One thing you can always say about Lang is that he 'feels' what he's playing and always does it with a smile on his face. He gave a great performance in what was a 'one off' show for the band (their tour with Buddy Guy ended a couple of weeks ago and they are in the studio working on a new album with a late September goal for release, according to bass player Jimmy Anton) I know I, along with the legion of Jonny Lang faithful, are going to be hoping for a true return to his blues roots this fall.

(Photo Courtesy of Dan Thorson)