in performance: keb’ mo’

keb mo 2

keb’ mo’

After wrapping up the efficient and elemental groove that propelled his 2006 tune Rita last night at the Opera House, Keb’ Mo’ provided what seemed like an almost involuntary sample of blues-speak. It  sounded little Billy Gibbons via John Lee Hooker, only instead of ‘Haw,  haw, haw,’ what emerged from the mouth of Mo’ was a little more cosmopolitan, something that sounded more like, ‘Habba, habba, habba.’ It was less a blues cry that a celebratory aside. But it was a telling display, nonetheless.

For nearly 2 ½ hours, Mo’ performed songs that referenced the blues but also flirted regularly with folk, soul and assorted points in between. But it wasn’t the stylistic hopscotch that sheltered the show from anything too rustic in the blues department. The casual and congenial attitude Mo’ revealed in abundance set the mood for the evening.

In short, if the singer and guitarist intended the concert as a blues program (and it’s a safe bet he didn’t) then what resulted was the cheeriest blues outing imaginable.

Take, for instance, The Old Me Better, a preview tune from the forthcoming Mo’ album BLUESAmericana. The tune happily pines for the days before a budding romance de-evolved into a marital makeover (“You made me a brand new man, but I like the old me better”). On the other end of the chronological scale was She Just Wants to Dance, a song that reached back to the singer’s self-titled 1994 album. It outlined right in its title all one especially emancipated female desires from a night out.

There were certainly echoes of the blues within the songs. The show opening Every Morning (also from the ’94 album) was the first of many songs Mo’ colored with the wiry slide of steel guitar. But even then, he showed little interest in making the sound too scholarly. In fact, the song boasted Tom Shinness on cello as its only additional accompaniment. Shinness also played bouzouki, electric bass and the double neck harp guitar. “It costs twice as much to check that thing in at the airport,” Mo’ joked, referencing the latter instrument.

Casey Wasner was added on drums for roughly one-third of the lengthy set, culminating in an extended string of songs near the end of the show that turned the trio into an electric combo. But the mood was no more rockish than it was bluesy. In the trio’s hands, the bemoaning Dirty Lowdown and Bad was only modestly more desperate than the show closing self help anthem BetterMan. The mood in each – at least, musically – was all blue sky bliss, minus the blues.

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