in performance: keb' mo'

keb' mo' performed last night at the kentucky theatre.

keb' mo'

“I heard backstage that they promised you some blues,” remarked Keb’ Mo’ early into his very easygoing performance last night at the Kentucky Theatre. “Then I got all nervous.”

Yeah, right. For nearly two decades, the singer and guitarist born Kevin Moore has been versed enough in the blues to use it as a musical calling card, even though his exceptionally sunny songs seldom mirror the blues in either temperament or tone.

So after that little confession, Moore sat down with a shiny steel guitar – a prime utensil of the well-schooled bluesman – and played a solo version of the title tune to his 2006 album Suitcase. The wiry lyricism echoed Delta blues, but Moore’s playing was as casual as the storytelling element of his often folkish songs. In the case of Suitcase, the theme was the transient nature of relationships – something that might seem a touch cosmopolitan to really be viewed as blues.

Match that with the smile that stayed plastered on Moore’s face throughout the show, not to mention his genuinely upbeat stage disposition, and you have to wonder where all this talk of the blues comes from.

The blues? Moore was too hopeful, too jubilant to embody the traditions (or even the stereotypes) of the blues. He clearly was having too much fun last night for any of that.

With the highly versatile Chicago songstress Susan Werner as an accompanist on guitar, mandolin, keyboards and occasional harmony vocals, Moore basked in the sunny soul, pop and folk that took as prominent a place in his music as the blues. The crowd, quite rightly, loved every minute of it.

The romantic regrets in Rita (another Suitcase tune) sounded keenly chipper, the cosmo-fied country blues accents of the show opening Let Your Light Shine (from 2004’s Keep It Simple) amounted to an affirmation and the title tune to 1996’s Just Like You was sung with the whispery comfort of a lullaby. And as Werner wound up a piano-driven ode to her adopted hometown, Chicago Any Day, Moore re-entered the stage not with the severity of a bluesman, but with feet in motion, happily dancing to a bright melody.

The blues were at work here somewhere. But throughout the 100 minute performance, they never slowed nor threatened the life parade that Moore so cheerfully subscribes to.

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