Jonny Lang, Buddy Guy gig leaves crowd wanting more

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 25, 2008 - 12:06 AM

Fairgoers were treated to four hours of rock and blues that somehow ended before Lang played his greatest hits.

Imagine the conversations between the State Fair officials and the agents for Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang, who shared a bill Sunday at the grandstand.

Guy, 72, is a revered Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer who is the link between Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix, the proprietor of Chicago's longest-standing blues club and a songwriter whose works have been recorded by everyone from Eric Clapton to Led Zeppelin. But Lang, 27, is the respected hometown hero, the enduring blues-rock wunderkind who drew more than 11,000 to the grandstand in 1998 and continues to get radio airplay in the Twin Cities but hardly anywhere else.

Then, with two stars worthy of headlining, someone had to open the four-hour evening of blues-rock.

So the fair enlisted Big Head Todd & the Monsters, who play in the Twin Cities about as often as Lang did when he lived here.

After all the negotiating, Lang got to headline, which makes as much sense as, say, the Police opening for Ziggy Marley. Even Lang was bothered a bit by the top billing. "There's that part of me that feels weird playing after Buddy Guy," he said early in his 75-minute set. "I remember seeing him when I was a little kid."

Usually following Guy, blues' master showman, is a tough task, but he seemed especially subdued on Sunday (perhaps because his brother, bluesman Phil Guy, just died of cancer, with the visitation set for today, the funeral Tuesday).

Instead of being his usual wild-man self, Guy eschewed gimmicks and allowed spontaneity and vocal dynamics -- moans, coos, screams and shouts -- to define his showmanship.

He turned on his honey-coated falsetto on "Someone Else Is Steppin' In" and made "Skin Deep," the title track of his fine new CD, a "Purple Rain"-evoking Southern gospel hymn. And, of course, he strolled through the crowd of 8,993, with guitar and mike in hand, for "Drowning on Dry Land."

Lang never really acknowledged that he was returning to the area where he cut his teeth (though four of his five supporting cast were from Minneapolis).

While Guy easily engaged the audience throughout his too-brief 60 minutes, it wasn't until the fifth song, the radio fave "Red Light," that Lang finally stepped outside himself and connected with the crowd. Thereafter, the tightly coiled, grimacing guitar hero came out of his introverted shell and played with a thrilling passion.

Sometimes, his arrangements got too long-winded (the testifying by the Nashville backup singer Jason Eskridge during Stevie Wonder's "Livin' for the City" lasted longer than a bag of mini-doughnuts).

In fact, the young guitar star got so carried away that there was no time for an encore, meaning the Lang lovers didn't get to hear "Breakin' Me" and "Lie to Me," his two biggest radio triumphs.

After all those phone calls between agents and the fair weeks ago, someone should have renegotiated the set times on Sunday night.

For a Jonny Lang set list and fan comments, go to www.startribune.com/poplife.

Jon Bream • 612-673-1719

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