Florida Theatre; Jacksonville, Florida • October 18, 2016
by Michelle Wilson
It’s always a magical evening when Keb’ Mo’ and his band are in the house, and their show at the historic Florida Theatre was no exception. Opening its doors in 1927, the 1900-seat, old-fashioned movie-house turned concert hall packed ’em in for one of today’s most charismatic purveyors of soulful blues and roots rock/Americana. The two-hour, 21-song set with a three-song encore delighted the faithful flock, and a more humble, grateful artist could not have graced this stage. Keb’ made a point of thanking the audience, and assured us that he would thank us again and again, which he did.
The key ingredient to a great live show is a cohesive band, one where the members genuinely like and enjoy each other on stage, and this is definitely that band. It is easy to observe the tight bond among Keb’ Mo’ and his group including keyboardist Michael B. Hicks, bassist Stan Sargeant and drummer Casey Wasner. This current tour is in support of Keb’s latest double-live release, Keb’ Mo’ Live: That Hot Pink Blues Album. The record has been nominated for two Grammy Awards on the preliminary ballot, one for Best Contemporary Blues Album and another for Best American Roots Performance for “Life Is Beautiful,” and deservedly so. The great appeal of this music is that people can relate to it within the scope of their own lives. That is what makes a master musical storyteller, and that is Keb’ Mo’ in a nutshell.
Starting at 8:10pm and varying among acoustic, electric and resonator guitars, some with slide, the enthusiastic listeners were treated to a tasty stew of Keb’s career-spanning signature songs. Opening with acoustic slide on “Every Morning” followed by “Loola Loo,” “City Boy” (always a favorite with Keb’ on harp as well) and “Am I Wrong,” Keb’ then moved to dobro for “That’s Alright” and “Henry.” Breaking out the banjo on “Don’t You Know” and accompanied by Hicks on accordion, the band then moved on to stunning harmonies during “I’m Telling You Now.”
The musical showcase never slowed down with one outstanding song after another, including “Hand It Over,” “”Life Is Beautiful,” “Rita,” “Government Cheese,” “Perpetual Blues Machine,” gorgeous versions of “More Than One Way Home” and “The Door,” “Shave Yo’ Legs,” the funky, danceable “Gimme What You Got,” “Old Me Better,” the fan-requested “Muddy Water,” the seductive “Dangerous Mood” and the hard-luck ditty “The Worst Is Yet To Come.”
The perfect three-song encore had the crowd up on its feet for “She Just Wants To Dance” and “A Better Man,” and Keb’ closed it out with a haunting dobro version of “America The Beautiful,” an appropriate and much-needed commentary during today’s political turmoil.
A real highlight of the night included Keb’ and Sargeant pulling a Buddy Guy and coming off stage to play as they walked through the main theater. People were dancing in the aisles and really enjoying the laid-back vibe of this venue. I liked the fact that it was “OK” for people to get up and stand off to the side of the stage for a few minutes, dancing, basking in the moment and soaking it all in, without security pouncing on them and telling them to go back to their seats. This definitely allows for a more pleasant concert experience. It was a feel-good night all around that definitely offered its money’s worth and then some.