The collaborative TajMo tour made a Grand Rapids stop Sunday night to the delight of fans who reveled in the iconic duo’s magic, not to mention the talents of a rising young star.
“Grand Rapids, you know we got soul,” was the refrain that sent the audience off into the night as legendary 76-year-old bluesman Taj Mahal and longtime cohort and recent collaborator Keb’ Mo’ wowed a sold-out crowd at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park on Sunday night.
It took a while, all night in fact, for Mahal to rise to his own feet, but it didn’t take nearly as long for attendees to rise up on their own. What began as a small portion of the crowd grooving in the wings at the opening notes played by “Senor Blues,” “Mr. Mo” and their nine-piece accompanying band, was more than half the audience by the mid-point of the two-hour “TajMo” set.
The lanky, vest-clad, 66-year-old fedora-wearing Mo’ showed he still had the moves on stage as he mixed it up musically with the “TajMo Orchestra’s” soulful horn section and ensemble that was highlighted by backing singer Alicia Michilli of Detroit, saxophonist Dana Robbins of Ann Arbor and Atlanta-based trumpeter Quentin Webb.
It was the way Mo’ and Mahal complemented one another that dropped the most jaws, however, as they flawlessly finished each other’s lines, swapped riffs on harmonica and guitar and traded verses all night long, performing each of their own hits such as Mo’s “Government Cheese” and “Perpetual Blues Machine” and Mahal’s “Queen Bee” and “If the River was Whiskey” and hitting on their recent collaborative cuts like “Don’t Leave Me Here” and “That’s Who I Am.”
IMPROVISATIONAL JOY MESHED WITH UP-AND-COMING TALENT
Fans were treated to improvisational traditional blues, floating guitar solos, a bit of straight funk and some otherwise unforgettable moments, such as a three-song sequence that featured just Mahal and Mo’ on stage together in which Mo’ remarked, “I get to play with that dude right there. Wow.” Their mutual admiration and joy of playing together translated clearly to those in attendance and spilled right over into the crowd.
And while all those present no doubt came to see TajMo, many will likely be checking out Michilli’s work after her voice gave pause to both frontmen on a pair of occasions. “Ya know, they still make them like they used to,” Mo’ remarked after the 26-year-old vocalist sang her part in William Bell classic “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” prompting the band to stop and soak in the roaring fan reaction. “I need a minute,” echoed Mahal, shaking his head.
Another 20-something rising star that has wowed Mahal was show-opener Jontavious Willis, who he has referred to as “a great new voice of the 21st Century in the acoustic blues.
The engaging 22-year-old Georgia bluesman got the stage warmed up proper with his soulful voice, welcoming wit, harmonica and guitar, as he kicked things off with Bob Dylan’s “Goin’ Down to New Orleans,” got down on Nina Simone’s “Trouble in Mind” and Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” and performed a handful of other cuts, including his original “Luxurious Man” and a few obscure and traditional blues numbers and Dylan covers.
When the crowd let out a huge cheer at hearing his age, Willis laughed and quipped, “Next year, that won’t be quite as impressive.”
PHOTO GALLERY: TajMo at Meijer Gardens
Photos by Katy Batdorff
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