As Sir Mix-a-Lot’s electric set of some of his biggest hits came to a close Saturday at Neumos, the Seattle hip-hop legend reminded the crowd that the night did not belong to him.
Instead, the sold-out show was to celebrate Ayron Jones and the Way’s debut album, “Dream,” released on Oct. 29 and produced by Mix-a-Lot. Jones plays a fiery brand of Seattle rock that does its best to defy definition, even if it’s essentially the blues with some grunge window dressing.
Jones used his 80-minute set to prove that it doesn’t matter what you want to call his music. His raw, soulful voice and his explosive six-string acrobatics kept the crowd transfixed as he ripped through his best album cuts and covers (some obvious, like “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and others like “Georgia On My Mind,” not so much).
The garage-rock grunge of “On Two Feet I Stand,” the first track on “Dream,” got things started off. Jones’ singing was impressive and showed an evolution even from what was on the album.
The anger of “Bounce Your Head” followed and it gave Jones a chance to show that singing isn’t the only thing he keeps working to improve. His guitar solo nearly careened out of control but he saved it from being pointless noodling like the best guitarists can do.
Jones likes to avoid the Jimi Hendrix comparisons, which is smart. No one needs the weight of having to live up to a legend, and their music is very different despite the easily spotted similarities.
Still, it was when Jones whipped out a version of “Voodoo Chile” (which sounded a lot more like his hero Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version than Hendrix) dripping with swagger that he got the crowd truly whipped into a frenzy. It seems like a lot of times guitarists have to sacrifice a little technical accuracy for passion, but Jones got the mix just right.
If Jones had been finished after he closed out his lead single, “Feedin’ From the Devil’s Hands,” by smashing his guitar into bits — okay, maybe he’s not avoiding the Hendrix comparisons that desperately — no one could complain they didn’t get their money’s worth.
But Jones came back out for four more songs, first pulling out an acoustic version of “Georgia On My Mind” that was slightly hampered by a guitar that just didn’t seem in tune. Things got back on track with Jones’ ode to Seattle, “Baptized in Muddy Waters,” before he pulled out his ace: the ballad “My Love Remains.”
Drawing from SRV, Hendrix, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and even Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter,” “My Love Remains” allowed Jones to show he has some subtlety to him. His guitar had been screaming for the whole show, but it was just as effective whispering sweet nothings.
The love didn’t last long as Jones used the menacing, instrumental “Aberdeen” to close things out. After one final, searing solo, Jones hurled his guitar on the floor and kneeled over it, ripping off a couple strings before storming off the stage in a mic-drop moment.
Hours before, soulful singer Tomeka Williams opened the show. She’s managed by Sir Mix-a-Lot and thanks to her powerful voice and engaging stage presence is a name to watch out for. Mix-a-Lot didn’t disappoint the crowd during his set and played all the songs you’d expect to hear: “My Hooptie,” “Posse On Broadway,” “Testarossa” and, of course, his Grammy-winning “Baby Got Back.”
But it was as Mix-a-Lot said; the night belonged to Jones. Mix-a-Lot likes to call Jones the “King of Seattle,” and while it’s too early to anoint him, Jones nevertheless has managed to elevate himself into the conversation on Seattle rock royalty.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails