All I knew about Jonny Lang was that he was a lot younger than he sounded, and that I can’t keep the two CDs that I own (Lie to Me and Long Time Coming) from making the trek to my CD player. I first became aware of him in a Disney Channel concert that aired frequently many years ago — in which a teenage Lang lived up to his child prodigy reputation, his shoulder-length blond locks moving in synch with his muscular guitar.
At the Brown Theater Saturday night, the Fargo, N.D. farmboy turned guitar God gave a powerful performance with a strong five-piece band, including the husky pipes of backup singer Jason Eskridge, who I’d seen on this stage before as part of Lyle Lovett’s band. Lang, at 25, is a changed man. He looks more like Brad Pitt than a blues guitar king, and he wears a constant grin that says he knows something you don’t.
I found that Lang’s done a lot of living since releasing a platinum album at age 15, an age at which my greatest accomplishment was throwing a no-hitter in Little League. It’s almost a cliche that Lang’s life, flush with fame, playing in bars he couldn’t legally get into, led him down the wrong path. Lang had the addiction trifecta before he was 20 — nicotine, alcohol and drugs.
Five years ago, he had a revelation that led him to God and to give up his vices, and got married. Yet, his show wasn’t a religious revival. It still sounds like a powerful blend of blues and rock and roll, and he performed the most ingenious guitar solos I’ve witnessed. Except for the clean-cut look and the addition of some gospel influence in his new CD, Turn Around, the band sounds just like the pre-revelation Lang. That’s a good thing.
In his bio, he talks about the change in his life. “I get to do what I love for a living. But it wasn’t so long ago that I was spiraling downward in a lot of ways, until God touched my life and set me on the right track. I feel a huge debt to give glory back to Him for everything He has done for me,” he says.
On stage, Lang isn’t much on talking about himself, or anything else. Other than introducing the band, his banter didn’t get much beyond “thank you.”
The guy sitting next to me said he was handed his tickets, and knew nothing about Lang’s music or what to expect. He heard a powerful band motor through some of my favorites (a dramatic Red Light, the encore anthem Lie to Me) and probably was familiar only with Lang’s remake of Stevie Wonder’s Livin’ in the City. When the concert ended, he turned to me with that an amazed look, as if he’d discovered a treasure he didn’t know existed.