Music review: Keb’ Mo’ happy singing the blues

He might be the most genuinely happy blues musician in existence, quite a feat considering the subje

Toward the back half of Keb’ Mo’s two-hour-plus set in the Hart Theatre at The Egg Saturday night, the perennially grinning blues guitarist said he wanted to get serious.

He then proceeded to leave his guitar by the side of the stage as he wandered out into the full house, shaking his hips to the solid groove the band was laying down, while audience members followed him around dancing as if he were the Pied Piper of blues. As Mo’ retook the stage, a young boy followed him back up, and the two danced throughout the subsequent performance of “Gimme What You Got.”

It’s this kind of spontaneity that makes Mo’s shows so much fun. He might be the most genuinely happy blues musician in existence, quite a feat considering the subject matter of the music. But even when he was singing songs about such typical blues subjects as losing his job (“We Don’t Need It”) or having his heart broken, Mo’ kept things breezy and light, but never sappily so.

Mo’ and his top notch band — drummer Les Falconer, keyboardist Kevin So, bassist Vail Johnson, organist Michael Hicks and guitarist and mandolinist Jeff Paris — kicked things off a little before 9 p.m. with the high energy crowd tribute “I’m Amazing.” The singer was relatively quiet compared to his 2009 appearance at The Egg, when he freely took audience requests. Not so this night, as Mo’ and company put their heads down and plowed through smooth, funky blues such as “Government Cheese” and “All the Way.”

Throughout the evening, the band swung back and forth between acoustic and electric instruments. The first acoustic interlude, featuring “Life is Beautiful” and the staggeringly moving “Rainmaker,” provided a nice counterpoint to the full-on blues rockers that came before. But it all remained upbeat and humorous, as on the gently fingerpicked “Shave Yo’ Legs.”

New songs from this year’s “The Reflection” album, Mo’s first studio set since 2006’s “Suitcase,” fit nicely alongside the older numbers. Many of the new cuts were highlights — “The Whole Enchilada” featured one of Mo’s most creative guitar solos of the evening.

Speaking of solos, everyone in the band got his chance to shine this night. Paris supplemented Mo’ on guitar, often palying call-and-response lead parts, but his high points all came on mandolin. His solo to close out “Closer” was one of the evening’s most beautiful moments. Perhaps most surprising was Johnson’s bass solos, especially on the bouncy “Angelina,” where his playing very nearly overshadowed even Mo’ (but not quite).

A very shy Sunny War, stage name of California’s Sydney Ward, played a short opening set pitched somewhere between Delta blues and indie folk. Judging from the high quality of her smoky vocals and muscular acoustic guitar playing here, she could use a boost of confidence — she spoke little between songs, and when she did it was mostly self-deprecating commentary.

She introduced her best original song, the lighthearted “Every Day Every Night,” by saying, “Not much to say about this one — it’s real boring.” It definitely was not. And then, she one-upped herself performance-wise with a breathtaking cover of Gillian Welch’s “Revelator,” her voice weaving perfectly with her stark, haunting fingerpicking.

Categories: Entertainment

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