Last Weekend - Black Jacket Symphony

Last Friday night I went to the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama to hear a unique concert from a group calling itself the Black Jacket Symphony.

I had heard about this band for a long time before I ever saw them. People told me how they would pick an album and then reproduce it note-for-note live onstage with local musicians. Hearing about it I thought "yeah, lots of bands play other people's music. That's no big deal."  But everyone insisted that it sounds JUST LIKE the album, and in some cases better than the actual band that produced the album when they play it live themselves.

I'm familiar with bands that sound great on the recording and suck in concert, so this was perfectly understandable to me.

Friday night's concert was AC/DC's Back in Black album. I came so close to getting to see the real AC/DC when they came to Memphis for their Black Ice album tour, but missed out. So this concert, if it was as good as people promised, was going to be my substitute. It didn't hurt that a large group of my oldest friends were also going.

I had to leave work early to get to the show on time. Ironically, it was precisely because I had just started a new job and didn't feel comfortable missing work that I had missed the real AC/DC concert four years ago.

I arrived in Huntsville with just enough time to grab something to eat and race to the Civic Center. In the parking garage I ran into the Baddest Girl in the Whole Damn Town, who also happened to be the person who had my tickets. So it was a fortunate thing that I happened to find her there as we were both parking at the same time. She handed me my tickets and we headed into the show.

I don't know all the band members names. Every show the Black Jacket Symphony performs consists of a different group of studio musicians depending on what album they are performing, except for the drummer, Mark Lanter, who organizes the shows and thus is in every one of them. But one name I do remember is Bryan Gibson. Bryan is a very accomplished musician who appears to be capable of playing in a classical string quartet as easily as he can a heavy metal band. I had seen him play before and he is amazing. He plays a Gibson guitar most of the time, so his name is considered to be rather ironic. People comment on it at every show and I'm sure he's sick of the jokes. If he ever played anything else but a Gibson I think people would riot.

Once seated, I looked around and observed musicians everywhere. Jimmy Rusidoff, Memphis guitarist from the very first band named Creed, later renamed Southern Creed, was a few seats over to my right. To my left, just across the aisle, was Brother Cane bass player and current guitarist with Atlanta Rhythm Section Dave Anderson. All around were people dressed in the same clothes and hairstyles that they would have worn to an actual AC/DC concert back in the 1980s, only now they were all older and mostly looked ridiculous. But they were having fun and living in the moment, so I guess maybe they knew what they were doing. 

When I heard about this group and how they chose every musician for each show based on how well they could duplicate the sound they were imitating, and then I heard they were going to do AC/DC, I said to anyone who would listen "they're going to have a hell of a time finding a singer." From what I was told, there were news stories about the show discussing the troubles they experienced finding that singer. But apparently they found one. At the last minute.

Finally, the show started.

There were three guitarists, Bryan Gibson, Brian Whitman and Jonathan Harms, plus a base player, Jay Johnson. The leader of the band, Mark Lanter on drums, was of course there. And towering over everyone else in the band, was their singer, David Jaynes. He didn't have the leather vest or the signature hat on, because for every show the Black Jacket Symphony wears formal black jackets, black pants and black shirts. It's a symphony after all, so no one on stage is going to show up in ripped jeans or shirtless.

They broke into the first song on the Back in Black album, Hells Bells, and everyone cheered.

Jager - makes you sing like Brian Johnson
The singer was pretty good. At first he seemed like his range was pretty limited, like he couldn't go up and down with the notes very well. And then we noticed that in addition to several bottles of water on stage that he was drinking from every chance he got, there was a bottle of Jagermeister. Ah HA! Even I can sound like Brian Johnson after a shot of Jager. So the secret was out. Several more songs into it, the singer's voice started to roughen up a bit and he sounded more and more like the man himself. And to see him singing, it was apparent what a huge amount of effort it required to sound like that. But he did it. And he did it well. Mid-way through the show he sounded EXACTLY like Brian Johnson, even to the point that he started talking to the audience between songs, complete with the accent and everything, and if you didn't know it wasn't Brian Johnson up there you'd swear it was him. Except that he was a giant and the real Brian Johnson is actually fairly short.

After the album was done, and we had all screamed our heads off at the start of each new song, there was an intermission. This was a formal concert, in the concert hall rather than the big arena, so alcohol was served to the audience. Thus, intermission was a stampede to the bathrooms for a much needed pee and a refill. High heels were clicking everywhere as women in tight sparkly dresses raced by. There was a lot of rapid mingling in the lobby. Then back to our seats.

The band came out and played AC/DC's greatest hits, whatever song wasn't on Back in Black that had been a big hit. It was awesome. And the singer even did Bon Scott's somewhat different vocal sound, too. He was good.

So in short, this was a great show. The Black Jacket Symphony is as good as everyone says. They have ongoing tours around the general Nashville area extending out about 200 miles, I guess. They play Birmingham and Huntsville and Chattanooga and I don't know where all else. But they have never played Memphis. That's why I had to travel to Huntsville, Alabama, to see and hear them. It was worth it. They are true professionals. And they are every bit as good as people say.  If you get a chance to see their show I highly recommend it.

And if you get a photo with the band after the show and you meet Brian Gibson, be sure to ask him what kind of guitar he plays. He loves that.

No, he doesn't.

Bryan Gibson - "seriously, that shit isn't funny"

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