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It’s a prompt 8pm kick-off for Myles Kennedy’s first stripped down show in South Africa. Hell, tonight is the world premiere of a set Kennedy’s been working on consistently the last few months, before diving headfirst into his “Year Of The Tiger” world tour.
We get our first taste of his upcoming debut album with opener ‘Devil On The Wall’ and it’s a blues romper as Kennedy strums the opening riff on his gleaming acoustic Taylor. It’s refreshingly different, a throwback to the raging Mississippi delta blues both melodically and lyrically, as he croons about the shadows of the dearly departed.
He flips Slash’s ‘Standing In the Sun’ on its head with a slower rendition and we shriek as he teases us with a brief taste of his trademark timbre.
He breaks to confess that its been a bit of a mission to get to us – 72 hours to be exact. “I would’ve swam if I’d had to,” he smiles looking down shyly at his guitar and I suddenly remember why I christened him Myles “Where Can I Get One” Kennedy* the last time he was here.
The stage setup is reminiscent of the VH1 unplugged layouts of the ‘90s and Kennedy looks right at home, surrounded circularly by his guitars. He peels off his skinny black jacket and a random guy vocalises my thoughts, screaming, “TAKE IT OFF!”
“Your mind’s in the gutter,” he smirks before adding, “you don’t wanna see that.” I wouldn’t be so sure about that but moving swiftly along. Unlike Kennedy’s beard that’s picked up a few salt ‘n’ pepper strands over time, his voice is as razor-sharp as ever and he wields it expertly, slicing through the foot-stomping chorus of Alter Bridge’s ‘Addicted To Pain’.
His longtime manager and collaborator Tim Tournier (who plays bass on “Year Of The Tiger”) joins him for the country-rooted ‘Haunted By Design’, but it’s during ‘Starlight’ that he ventures out, stage-left for the first time, tipping his acoustic in the direction of the upper stands in appreciation of their wails.
He whips out a gorgeous, glimmering recent-model National resonator to cover Led Zeppelin’s ‘Going To California’. His vocal is as piercing as Plant’s as he holds the note on “high” for a good few seconds to howls of gratitude.
After ‘Layla’ he stops to address us again – “I don’t think I’ve ever played this live before.” It falls deathly quiet as everyone scrambles to hit record. The set falls dark and Kennedy’s spotlighted while he intros ‘All Ends Well’ off Alter Bridge’s 2013 album “Fortress”. The moody chorus soars as Kennedy throws his voice in the darkness and I’m not crying you’re crying goddamit. My first goosebump moment.
Tournier comes back for fast-paced single ‘Year Of The Tiger’ and Kennedy explains that the whole concept for the video was the guitarist’s brainchild. Kennedy looks at ease having someone to bounce a riff off again. “Something about coming out here alone is like coming out with my pants off,” he laughs and everyone’s minds are in the gutter again.
Tournier is off and suddenly it’s a full-on bluesy hoedown as Kennedy intros the beginning of Robert Johnson’s ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’ and works us into a crescendoed frenzy.
Another break as he shares with us how, after Mayfield Four dissolved and he was ready to give up music altogether, he wrote the subsequent song, “in the chord of open G.” Alter Bridge’s ‘Watch Over You’ is as tender a rendition as I hoped it would be and the held-out chorus is my second goosebump moment.
People are screaming suggestions now. The dude that yells Right Said Fred needs to be offed. Thankfully we get Elton John’s ‘Levon’, followed by one encore. Kennedy’s guitar spazzes out during ‘Rise Today’ and he just laughs through the rest of the song.
There’s a less-polished, more-human element to this show that makes it pure magic. Instead, it’s all about his understated vocal elegance and embellishment, something I’m sure I’ll remember for a long time to come.
*In all seriousness though, where can I get one?
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