Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band Arrives Sharp & Focused at Orlando’s Hard Rock Live (SHOW REVIEW)

The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band was originally scheduled to play at Hard Rock Live in Orlando, Florida in February 2021, but due to COVID it was postponed to September 2021. As that date neared, a member of the band contracted COVID and it was postponed again. On January 28, 2022, a delighted Orlando crowd finally got to see the blues-rock band.

Young guitar-slinger Ally Venable opened the show with a set of originals from her four-album catalog. The three-piece band ripped through a set primarily comprised of uptempo blues rockers, though the slow blues numbers showcased Venable’s soulful vocals. For the last song, she strapped on a strat and announced, “I’m from Texas, so one of the artists that got me into the blues was Stevie Ray Vaughan.” She then closed the band’s set with a cover of Vaughan’s “Lenny,” with Venable mimicking Vaughan’s guitar tone and solo licks.

The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band opened its set with the instrumental jam “Trouble Is,” the last song on the band’s 1997 album of the same name. This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of that sophomore album, so six of its tracks were represented in the setlist as a way of looking back at the breakthrough.

After the instrumental opener, Noah Hunt put away his guitar and grabbed the microphone, his soulful twang leading the pop-rock number “Girl Like You” and the blues shuffle “King’s Highway.” 

Though Shepherd has taken over lead vocals on many of the band’s songs since The Place You’re In in 2004, during this set he only sang backing vocals, with Hunt serving as the primary singer. That allowed Shepherd to focus entirely on his guitar, which is the main reason people go to a Kenny Wayne Shepherd concert. Shepherd was as impressive as ever on guitar, showing off ridiculous speed, octave-jumping string bends, nasty vibrato, and seemingly endless sustain, all while strutting the stage and making playing guitar look like the coolest thing a person can do.

After several lively blues-rock songs, the band slowed things down for the soft crooner “Heat of the Sun.” Hunt’s gripping, vulnerable voice complimented Shepherd’s soft, clean guitar licks. It was one of the best performances of the night, with the band displaying its underrepresented softer side. While there were other moments of tender blues, the band spent most of the night in upbeat rock mode. 

Shepherd was backed by a seven-piece band, including a horn section and keys that added extra depth to the rhythms. During the extended jam of “Shame, Shame, Shame,” the only song from the band’s debut album, each band member had a chance to show off his chops. But Shepherd was the star of the show, his fretboard mastery punctuated with his flair for showmanship — playing with one hand, posing after impressive licks, and attacking the strings with anger.

After closing the regular set with a rollicking cover of Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee,” the band returned for a three-song encore. First came the sing-along ballad “Blue On Black,” followed by a heavy take on Fleetwood Mac’s blues-rock shredder “Oh Well.” The band then ended the show with its favorite closer, their cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child. Their rendition was like a cross between the original and the Stevie Ray Vaughan version, but with a bit more heft. Two extended virtuoso guitar solos later, the night was over. On the third try, the Kenny Wayne Shepherd finally brought its blues-rock clinic to Orlando. Next up? The Trouble Is celebration tour that Hunt teased.

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