On Monday, November 7, 2016, John Mayall and his band played at one of the best venues in Portland, Oregon, the Aladdin Theater. The capacity is only a little over 700, but there isn’t a bad seat in the house and the acoustics are perfect. When I walked in the entrance John Mayall was standing behind a table signing autographs and CDs that people purchased along with greeting people, so I said hello before heading to my seat.
The opening act was Austin, Texas based singer/songwriter, Bill Carter who performed with an acoustic guitar for a 40 minute set prior to Mayall coming on at 9:00 PM. Carter is the author of a number of hit songs including one recorded by Mayall along with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s #1 hit “Crossfire,” that he penned with “Double Trouble,” Stevie’s rhythm section. He joked with the audience between numbers as he sang songs about drugs, alcohol, bugs and “Willie The Pimp.” He was accompanied by Scott McDonald on a semi-surrealistic sounding “Gretsch Electromatic Hollowbody,” electric guitar.
John Mayall and his band comprised of Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport behind the drums took the stage promptly at 9:00 PM. John bowed as he came out and greeted the crowd and stepped behind his double set of Roland keyboards that produced a variety of sounds throughout the night ranging from “Rag Time”and “Classical” piano to a jazz band xylophone and organ. He opened the show with “The Bear,” from one of my favorite albums of his, 1968’s Blues From Laurel Canyon.
The night was filled with a dozen numbers that the band relentlessly jammed on. In between some songs there would be joking between John and Rzab about age differences. Like when John introduced “Walking On Sunset” another Blues From Laurel Canyon cut, and Rzab commented that he was only 9 years old when the album was released. Through the night Mayall jumped from one instrument to another and sometimes combined them as he sang and astonishing exuded awhat seemed to be boundless energy for an “Octogenarian.”
When Mayall played “That’s All Right” by Jimmy Rogers, he clarified that he was referring to Muddy Waters guitarist harmonica player and not Jimmie Rogers the Country singer. “Nothing To Do With Love” began with a piano intro that John jammed on until Rzab’s bass overtook him as he thumped the beat that Davenport accompanied until he exploded the beat as the trio jammed together segueing into John becoming dominant again as he banged it out on the keyboards. “Streamline” was recorded back in 1967 when Peter Green was the lead guitarist of the “Bluesbreakers” and John jammed on the Roland’s organ mode to prove that he is still an incredible showman.
Mayall donned his guitar for “Moving Out” and then began playing keyboards as bass and drums joined in until I felt the vibrations of the beat pulsating through my body. Davenport was a locomotive on drums and played with an intensity that drove the rhythm as relentlessly as Niagra Falls, while John began to delicately attack the keys as he played like a madman. When the song ended Mayall introduced “Ridin’ On The L&N,” a tune written by Lionel Hampton that he explosively banged out on keyboard as Rzab and Davenport joined in on the sonic celebration.
Mayall once again returned to his Blues From Laurel Canyon album with “Long Gone Midnight,” a jazzy number that had John replacing the guitar solo with xylophone sounds from his Roland. When he introduced “Nature’s Disappearing,” from his 1970 album, USA Union, he made the comment that “it was nice to know that there are no children in the audience so I can say shit,'” as he pulled the guitar strap over his shoulder. The song began with bass and drums dominating until Mayall turned up the guitar volume and began to solo, while alternating with singing, until Rzab & Davenport once again join in as the multi layered jam reached its zenith.
The band followed up with “The Tears Came Rolling Down,” off Mayall’s 1976 self titled album. This was a song that stretched his voice and stamina as he wailed, “when my baby left me,” with an intensity that was mirrored by the exuberance of his keyboards in the style of a concert pianist hammering out the blues.” The final selection of his set was “California” from 1969’s live recording at the Fillmore East, Turning Point. It was remarkable to witness the phenomenon of John’s ability to maintain the level of performing intensity that he does at the age of 82. John asked the crowd “did everyone have a good time?” “Yeah!!” the crowd answered as John played keyboards with one hand and his mouth harp with the other. The trio served up a jazzy rendition with Davenport working the skins from a machine gun staccato approach until he changed to a delicate minimalist one on the cymbals and drum rims by the numbers conclusion.
At the conclusion of Mayall’s dynamite show, John said goodnight and the band left the stage, only to be brought back by a screaming and stomping crowd to do one final song. “Room To Move” off the Turning Point album is one of the most familiar of Mayall’s compositions featuring his harmonica and scat singing. John’s entire performance lasted a total of 100 minutes and he was on his feet moving from one end of the stage to the other throughout the show. The only rest that he had was when he would lean back on a stool behind the keyboards. It was a fantastic show by a great showman and blues legend.
Review by Bob Gersztyn