The South Shore Room didn’t want Keb’ Mo’ to stop
Keb’ Mo’ stepped onstage Aug. 13, all tall and lanky, in his trademark black fedora, relaxed khaki shirt, casually distressed name-brand jeans and tidy Vans sneaks, then burst right into his opening tune – a remodeled version of the Eagles’ 1975 hit, “One of These Nights.”
The three-time Grammy winner’s effortless fashion was flawlessly accessorized by a glossy red Hamer guitar, as he and his multi-talented band played the first of 19 songs over a rollicking two-hour show.
Mo’ – his driver’s license reads the less-cropped version, Kevin Moore – played for a packed South Shore Room, to an avid audience that knew the night’s lyrics as well as the famed bluesman himself. The Harrah’s Lake Tahoe stop was just one on a 28-date tour to celebrate Moore’s studio release “The Reflection.” The Eagles’ cover was just the first of five songs performed off the impressive new disc, which for the first time in Keb’ Mo’ history, features no blues tunes.
But channeling material from previous albums, those blues snuck in anyway, past the audience laughs over the lyrics on “Government Cheese,” Moore’s team settled on a few swampier tunes that let the ghost of Robert Johnson flick around the stage.
An ensemble formed for this tour – drummer, Les Falconer; Vail Johnson on bass; Michael Hicks electric organ; Kevin So electric and acoustic piano, plus guitar; and acoustic piano, guitar, mandolin and harmonica player Jeff Paris – showcased their collective skill on songs that let them turn the showroom into a musical playground.
While each musician had his own chance to shine, you needed a tour guide to keep up with their expert instrument changes. One minute, the organ guy is running to the front keyboard, while the keyboard guy is strapping on a guitar and the guitar guy is grabbing his mandolin. Through it all, Keb’ Mo’ kept switching out his own guitar collection, still favoring his “workhorse” Hamer, which rather effectively picked up the red spotlights overhead.
“I have a history with red guitars,” Moore says on his website. “My first electric was red. I used to have just one guitar, but I have grown, and I love them all. They all make beautiful sounds and beautiful music.”
True that … music is the focus and there’s little chatter at a Keb’ Mo’ gig. Although just after “The Whole Enchilada,” Moore did say, “Thank you – it took me a whole lotta years and five wives to write that song. Ouch!”
Leading into “I See Love,” Moore grabbed his blond acoustic, while Paris layered another element with his mandolin play, before they crossed into the sweetly wrenching lyrics on “We Don’t Need It.” The twangy softness of the new release got one of the band’s biggest responses of the night.
Biggest, that is, until the full-on, sexy blues romp through “Dangerous Mood,” from Moore’s 1996 Grammy winner, “Just Like You.” While very active politically, Keb’ Mo’ tunes tend to mainly cover love and romance, yet he sings the sort of songs that sidle up next to you, teasing your body into moving with the rhythm.
By the time they got to the dance-funk of “Gimme What You Got,” it was hard to separate Mo’s cool, hip personality from his cool, excellent music. And well into one of the encore tunes, it showcased how strong his voice really is when he belted out lyrics to “The Door,” in tones as deep as the Delta.
The show almost finished with a resounding scramble through “Standing At The Station,” aided by Johnson’s strong bass lines. After, Keb’ realized he wasn’t getting away with a mere three encores, but decided to settle everyone down with the softly melodic “City Boy,” word-perfect for his Tahoe audience:
“But I want to be where my soul can run free. I’m just a city boy looking for a home. Want look out at night and see stars in the sky –
the Little Dipper and the Milky Way.
I can’t sleep, it’s too loud. Everywhere, where l go, you know there seems to be a crowd.
Tired of all these concrete streets, I want to feel the dirt up under my feet.
I wanna go where the buffalo roam. I’m just a city boy, looking for a home.”
Rock, blues, country, R sweetness, sass or funkified – the category doesn’t matter, Keb’ – as long as you keep giving us Mo’.