A muggy night in Munhall gave way to a multigenerational masterclass in blues guitar when Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd's new band The Rides took the stage at the Carnegie Library Music Hall. And with the mean age slanted closer toward 50 than 40, it was the self-described “elderly person” Stills that made the concert something to behold.
Supergroups have changed a lot since Stills' “Super Sessions” of 1968, which served as inspiration for the current group's formation. Sometimes they work (look at the recent success of Them Crooked Vultures), but often they don't (Chickenfoot, et al.) From their first call and response, during a sizzling version of the opener, “Born in Chicago,” concertgoers may have wondered if it was a bad idea to pair the legend with the prodigy. Stills must have borrowed his amp from old pal Neil Young because his sound was awash in fuzz and grunge. Kenny Wayne, meanwhile, tore up the frets with frenetic precision, breezing through solo after solo with astonishing virtuosity. (It didn't help Stills that he looked sloppily dressed in the same all-black outfit as Shepherd, he of the fitted-T and unflinching mohawk.)
Whereas Shepherd may have distinguished with his guitar playing, Stills won the audience early with his vocals. On the Rides original “Roadhouse,” Stills's voice, weathered by years of touring, and yelling at David Crosby, contained a grit that sounded Delta authentic, and he proved he could still hit the high notes on “Don't Want Lies.” (It is a testament to the songwriting ability of these gentlemen that their originals sounded right at home with so many blues standards.)
But this was a gig, not a competition. The two traded off on vocals as much as they traded licks. Keyboardist Barry Goldberg, veteran of the original Super Sessions, provided a mid-60s Doors and Animals flare with the occasional keyboard solo.
These were infrequent, however, as the night was all about the guitar. Halfway through the set, during a cover of Muddy Waters' “Honey Bee,” the two rock gods stood inches apart, faced the audience and merged their individual sounds into the sickest guitar solo the century-old Library Music Hall had ever witnessed. The two then shared a double fist bump, acknowledging the awesomeness of such a vulgar display of musical prowess.
The rest of the night was primarily devoted to deep cuts, Stills reaching so far back into his catalog, for songs like “Treetop Flyer,” he claimed to be “covering himself.” The two played their signature songs back to back, a kicked-up “Love the One You're With” - an odd choice since it is essentially the anti-blues song - followed by a fiery “Blue on Black.”
By then the crowd was standing and applauding after each song. And while the audience may have viewed The Rides as Stills's band, the encore, “Keep on Rockin' in the Free World,” a rock classic performed by supremely talented musicians, proved anthemic for all ages.
Beth Hart opened for The Rides. Pity those stuck in the will-call line, or outside downing one last sippy cup full of wine, who missed her. The band came out on fire, with scorching guitar licks all their own. But it was Ms. Hart, the self-described bad girl, whose powerful voice threatened to bring down the chandelier. When, toward the end of her set, she took off her jacket and revealed a tattooed shoulder, one could be forgiven for thinking this is what an Amy Winehouse set could have been like had she lived another twenty years; Hart's performance moved the girl sitting behind me to tears.