Keb' Mo' kicks booty with funky, bluesy Michigan Theater show
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Honestly, I didn’t know much about Keb’ Mo’ before the show, other than his reputation as one of the best modern bluesmen around. But I know now he puts on one terrific live show. By the end of the evening, the crowd was dancing in front of their seats, in the aisles, and in the back of the theater, too.
Every song in the 2 Â½-hour set was a winner, and so was the incredibly tight 3-piece band: the everywhere-at-once Jeff Paris on keyboards (and other instruments), bassist Reggie McBride and Les Falconer playing the drums.
Rather than focus exclusively on the deep-down blues of, say, a Muddy Waters, Mo’ manages to tip his hat to the greats while bringing in his own funky style of upbeat, jazz/pop/rock-influenced blues to the party. He has outstanding audience rapport and I could have listened to that voice, soulful and deep with just a hint of rasp at the lower end of the register, all night long.
The show opened with “Family Affair,” the R&B classic by Sly and the Family Stone, with Mo’ and co. delivering a terrifically funky version of the original. The introspective “Victims of Comfort” and the shuffle beat-driven “Hole in the Bucket” followed, the first a cautionary tale about the consequences of excess, and the second the story of a man whose luck has run out but still believes there are good times ahead.
Not that the evening was a downer — in fact, quite the opposite. One of the high points was the cheerful “Life Is Beautiful,” which ’ Mo’ dedicated to his wife after admitting “I messed up today — I forgot my wedding anniversary.” The song is so lovely, I found myself hoping she forgives him.
Meanwhile, audience favorite “She Just Wants To Dance” promoted some serious clapping along, and the bump-and-grind funk of “Government Cheese” injected humor — culinary and sexual — into the set. “More Than One Way Home” also pleased the crowd, as did the droll “Shave Yo Legs.”
Keb’ Mo’ performs “More Than One Way Home”:
The sweet ballad “I’ll Be Your Water” was only time the artist accompanied himself on acoustic guitar. “Dangerous Mood,” an extended jam, gave the other members of the band — and Mr. Mo’ himself — a chance to display their formidable guitar skills.
Keb’ Mo’ is one of those artists who has inexplicably flown under my radar — but no more. If I needed any further convincing, encore tune “Standin’ at the Station,” kicked me over the edge. What a rousing, booty-shakin’ way to end the night!
And one more thing: opening act Kristina Train was one of the best I have heard in a long time. With a cheery “Hello Wolverines,” she tore through a half-hour set that showed off her clear, powerful voice, which was especially fetching on the cover tune “If You Want Me” and the title track from her debut CD, “Spilt Milk.” Train needs to come back to town, and soon, for a full show.
Roger LeLievre is a free-lance writer who covers music for AnnArbor.com.