Going to a John Mayall concert is like going to church – not to a religious ceremony, unless blues is your religion, but being inside a cathedral experiencing something divine. With 61 albums and over a half century of music behind him, British bluesman John Mayall’s current USA tour is cool, reflective, gentle on the mind and the ears and absolutely divine.At 83 it is no surprise that Mayall’s energy level is far more relaxed that it was in the days when Eric Clapton and John McVie blasted out hot blues on English stages with him. But, as anyone who has followed Mayall for the past half century knows, hot or cool, he loves the blues and that love was on full display Friday night at Pasadena’s The Rose music venue.
Standing in the spotlight on the stage, Mayall and drummer Jay Davenport and bassist Greg Rzab pulled the audience in close with a warm smile and old familiars. Mayall started the concert easy, conserving his energy for the 12-song set. Playing on his revered Hammond, Mayall opened with his 1993 release “I’m A Sucker for Love”, introduced by Rzab and Davenport with a relaxed percussion riff that set the contented tempo. Mayall’s voice, still strong but flattened with years, moved us along to the breakdown and a hot drum solo. We knew we were in for a night of classic blues by one of the best.
Mayall moved to the Roland keyboard for the Arthur Crudup song “That’s Alright” made famous by Elvis in 1954 but reimagined very blue by Mayall in his 2013 European concert. Switching to the electric guitar, Mayall moved to the end of the stage and electrified the crowd with his guitar chops in a coolly delivered “Do I Please You” from his 1977 album A Hardcore Package.
Always a natural with audiences, he introduced “The Bear” from the 1968 album Blues from Laurel Canyon with the story of his stay at the home of the band Canned Heat in Laurel Canyon and the band’s lead singer Bob “the Bear” Hite. He rolled the song outon the Roland with a toe-tapping tempo and his flat voice, edged with a smile. He stayed with the Roland for Sonny Landreth’s song about Louis Armstrong park, “Congo Square”, delivering the lyrics in a muted monotone but them picking up the pace and adding heat with harmonica. A drum solo further upped the energy and the band finished the song with a flourish.
Davenport and Rzab introduced “Moving Out and Moving On” with a strong percussion leadin to Mayall’s guitar, which rode nicely on the kick drum beat. The lyrics were muted, almost flat, but the music moved right along. The feeling shifted to jazz with the “Sum of Something”, originally recorded as electric blues on Mayall’s 2009 Tough album. Mayall kept things cool until the breakdown and a hot piano and drum solo that got the audience up and clapping.
Both Mayall and the room were fully warmed up as the band came down the stretch. Even the slow blues number, “Blues for the Lost Days” had a thrum of electricity through it that got ramped up in “Moma Talk to Your Daughter” and broke out in a high energy “Chicago Line” with Mayall belting the lyrics and blowing the harmonica for all it was worth.
The band got brought back for an encore which was full tilt blues harmonica, exactly what the room was looking for. Couples danced, diners clapped and you could tell that as much as Mayall blues are now cool and relaxed, he loves blowing the harp for all its’s worth and so do his fans. Mayall’s UStour has seven more dates in California, Hawaii and Florida before he moves on to Europe, doing what he loves to do… playing divine blues.