“Believe me, I’m just as surprised as you are,” remarked Stephen Stills last night at the Opera House after hitting and sustaining a high note at the conclusion of a new song called Don’t Want Lies.
No, Stills didn’t sound like a teenager, either. But if you’ve experienced how poorly his singing has been represented on record (and quite often onstage) over the past two decades, his clearance of the upper octaves of Don’t Want Lies – one of the finer tunes by the new blues-rock troupe The Rides he co-led last night with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Barry Goldberg – was rock ‘n’ redemption in action.
But The Rides’ nearly two hour performance was all about guitar, which Stills has always had command of throughout his 45 year career. Still, sharing the stage with a new generation guitar buck like Shepherd clearly brought out the best in Stills in terms of performance attitude and instrumental aptitude.
Little by way of innovation was intended – certainly not during the lion’s share of the set devoted to all 10 tunes from The Rides’ debut album Can’t Get Enough. Instead, the show revolved around even-keeled, high volume jams.
Shepherd possessed a light, fluid tone that sounded like a smoother, more streamlined variation of Texas blues-rock giant Stevie Ray Vaughan. Not coincidentally, the late Vaughan’s drummer, Chris Layton, has been a mainstay of Shepherd’s band in recent years. He also kept The Rides running like clockwork last night.
Stills’ guitar sound was denser and dirtier. Subsequently, tunes like Roadhouse and even his vintage political rant Word Game sounded less like blues jams and more like guitar grudge matches.
Keyboardist Goldberg kept a safe distance from the string sparring. But when his solos on piano and organ were given room to groove, as on his vintage composition I’ve Got to Use My Imagination, The Rides’ roots-driven vision nicely expanded.
Beth Hart’s opening set was a total blast. A vocalist with arena rock gusto one moment, a reflective keyboard balladeer the next and, later, a cabaret stylist that serenaded while sitting on the edge of the Opera House stage, Hart proved a deserving star in the making.