By BRUCE DENNILL
Myles Kennedy – Year Of The Tiger World Tour / Sun Arena Time Square, Menlyn, Pretoria 7.5
A wonderful singer who has enjoyed success with a number of bands, Myles Kennedy has still somehow managed to stay out of the mainstream. In that sense he is, for some of his fans, like a favourite out-of-the-way holiday destination that you don’t tell too many other people about because you don’t want to have to share the place with them and have the experience changed or possibly ruined in some way.
As a vocalist, Kennedy keeps pace with Robert Plant, Chris Cornell and, notably, Axl Rose (he’s arguably the only other major contemporary singer who can pull off Rose’s manic dynamics but without the offstage lunacy), and as such, he’s a favourite among musicians, as well as rock fans who like their music unapologetic and often pretty muscular.
A good number of those fans gathered in Pretoria’s Sun Arena, a new venue in general and largely untried when it comes to hosting live music. Amp Events, who hosted Kennedy, have pioneered concerts there, and it was incredibly encouraging to see them getting creative this time around, positioning the stage in the middle of the arena and so transforming the space into a large but intimate theatre area. Crucially, too, the sound was excellent – this concert featured Kennedy as the only person on stage, playing acoustic guitars, and the possibility of losing clarity and thus the impact of his performance was a real danger, well averted.
Kennedy didn’t make things easy for the soundman, necessarily, switching between a dreadnought Gibson, a bright solid-wood Taylor and a metal-bodied National, often in ringing drop D tuning. And the chords he uses, often in what prove to be characteristic patterns, sometimes challenge the ear of the listener more accustomed to pop and commercial rock. But all of this, as the basis for a setlist that included tracks from Kennedy’s bands The Mayfield Four, Alter Bridge, The Conspirators (the band he heads as a backing unit for guitarist Slash) as well as tracks from his excellent solo material Year Of The Tiger, released the day before this show (as well as a couple of excellent cover versions).
It’s testament to Kennedy’s songwriting skills that songs so new and untested in front of an audience – and played for a crowd on the other side of the world from his hometown of Boston – sounded, if not yet familiar, easy to relate to and enjoy; to the extent that most of the crowd were singing along with parts of the new songs before he’d finished playing them. There are a number of aces in this pack, too, with Blind Faith, Devil On The Wall, and Haunted By Design sticking around in the mind long after the last chord.
Perhaps the high point of the whole show was Kennedy’s performance of Starlight, the song he blames for delaying his solo career because, when it was released as a single by Slash (whose debut solo collection it appears on) it kicked off a busy time of touring and a busy lifestyle that kept him busy. He delays the famous chorus – one of the truest displays of Kennedy’s incredible high range – building an almost unbearable tension for the more devoted fans in the audience, and when it arrives, it confirms his status as a powerful presence in the rock scene.
The singer’s interaction with the crowd doesn’t support the intensity suggested by his songs, with Kennedy making self-deprecating jokes and interacting directly with wags shouting out comments from the crowd, including one gentleman who said intimated that he’d like to have the musician’s babies. During the next song, Kennedy dedicated a verse to his odd fan, before doubling over in laughter as the outlandish nature of the scenario became clear to him and ultimately giving up on the tune completely to give himself time to recover.
That kind of good humour and intimacy gave the concert an appeal over and above the great music, cementing a bond between Kennedy and his South African fans that will likely see him return before long.