John Mayall, Leicester Square Theatre, London
Tuesday 18 December 2012
"Well I don't feel like sleeping/ But I sure feel like lying down," the 79-year-old bluesman pleads on his lascivious "Help Me".
The sprightly septuagenarian, who sports a sparkly medallion and white ponytail, quite often performs - on guitar, harmonica, piano - in just his vest. However, it's a bit nippy tonight, so John Mayall keeps his shirt on for his quietly appreciative, gently nodding 12-bar-blues loving audience who have to come to pay homage to "the godfather of British blues" on the only UK date of his latest tour.
Mayall, after graciously introducing his band before a single note has been played, launches into "Congo Square", followed by "Dirty Water", both blues tracks that reek of the Louisiana swampland. The US-based Mancunian is ably backed by Texan Rocky Athas on lead guitar and Chicagoans Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums.
The accomplished quartet, much like an Iron Maiden or Status Quo gig, deliver exactly what you would expect. It’s unremitting, unapologetic Muddy Waters-style, down by the Mississippi Delta blues.
Quite often the four of them embark on wig outs that would make Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Lynyrd Skynyrd, in their heyday, wince. However, the jams never outstay their welcome, and to Mayall's credit he never regales us with unwieldy blues tales from his 50-year career - which he would have been perfectly entitled to do. After all, this is an artist who founded the venerable John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in the Sixties, and has mentored, led and inspired the likes Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor and Peter Green.
Yet, here in this intimate theatre he keeps the anecdotes short and the music extended. He simply, plainly relishes performing and attacks the blues harp with gusto on the likes of the sumptuous "Room to Move", from 1969's The Turning Point, and the T-Bone Walker gem "Call It Stormy Monday".
The veteran's energy levels are enviable throughout the generous two-hour set, and at one point he manages to play the mouth organ and keyboards at the same time - sort of like tapping your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time to rid yourself of the hiccups, but, clearly, much harder.
Mayall, after some feverish clucking and scatting on "Room to Move", finishes with the exquisite, Chuck Berry-like instrumental "Hideaway" (the track that Eric Clapton memorably recorded back in 1966). At the very end an emotional tour manager, Claude Taylor, arrives on stage to make sure we hail Mayall. We politely do. The blues giant is worth hailing.
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