Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Shepherds Bush Empire – 23/04/23

It’s an ironic coincidence that Kenny Wayne Shepherd is playing the Shepherd’s Bush Empire as he put on such a commanding performance to make the venue his own in all but name. As an explosive guitarist and skilful songwriter, he has built his own high kingdom of blues rock across nine original studio albums. His recent 25th anniversary milestone re-interpretation of Trouble Is…25 is the reason for this tour hitting London tonight as a hard rain fell outside this much anticipated show. And just like his honed skill set on these highly regarded recordings, tonight there was so much music gushing out from his fretboard. KWS is like a human hydrant of musical emotions raining down notes to quell the anxieties and salve the worries of modern life existing outside this theatre. He distracts and informs in a highly entertaining manner.

IMAGES: John Bull (Rockrpix)
WORDS: Paul Davies

But first things first, let’s deal with and get rid of the looming ghost in the room with the inevitable comparisons to being the successor to Stevie Ray Vaughan. He isn’t and nobody else is either. SRV and KWS were and are their own man. As this gig once more proved, Kenny Wayne Shepherd thrills audiences with an inimitable virtuosity and making comparisons serves no practical purpose. In the same way that Robin Tower is often compared to Hendrix, Kenny draws his sound from a similar deep sonic well but produces a different listening experience as he demonstrated once more here this evening with an ear-piercing performance.

Performing in front of a huge plectrum backdrop into which is slashed his initials, he shot out songs from the hip firing out passionately played powerful blues licks. Shuffling the song order he and his superb band delivered a full run through of his seminal second album Trouble Is. If there’s a better blues rock cover of a Bob Dylan song as Everything is Broken, then I want to hear it. Blue On Black, a song re-worked by Five Finger Death Punch then with Brian May, left beautiful blue bruises on the souls packed into this theatre.

“he shot out songs from the hip firing out passionately played powerful blues licks”

Three Fender Strat guitar changes, all set up for a different sonic palette, found Kenny, and lead singer Noah Hunt, playing a luscious I Found Love (When I Found You). Hunt’s thickened low register vocal deftly interprets these mostly heavy end blues tunes as the perfect foil to Kenny’s incendiary guitar antics. Shepherd’s demo of feedback on Hendrix’s I Don’t Live Today was only superseded by the epic workout by all the musicians on the mini encore set’s Heat Of The Sun. This and Woman Like You, from his recent The Traveler release, is where he further revealed the full range of his guitar technique with panache.

Proving he can hold a note for as long as a pearl diver can their breath, and always coming up with the treasured goods, a set ending passion play of BB King’s You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now re-affirmed his true-blue credentials. No man is a musical island and with a crack team blowing freely with him including Joe Krown delivering his ten fingered magic on keyboards; Kevin McCormick rock solid on bass; and introduced as ‘the freight train’ Sam Bryant on drums, Shepherd is travelling in musical style on this anniversary celebrating tour.

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