Review: John Mayall at the Civic Theatre

By Graham Reid

John Mayall. Photo / Supplied
John Mayall. Photo / Supplied

John Mayall is a rare one. Few artists - unless they have had huge hits and a high profile, and Mayall has never had either - could pull an audience on the strength of a name and reputation alone. And even fewer would be in the lobby selling their most recent CD and cheerfully shaking hands (even with those weren't buying) while the support act - in this case Hammond Gamble - warmed up the crowd.

But there was Mayall - thick white hair in a ponytail - meeting his fans, many of whom probably didn't know there was a new album, or had even bought a Mayall album since the 60s when this legendary blues musician (keyboards, harmonica, vocals), was at peak profile.

And Mayall acknowledged that knowledge gap in an almost two hour set which ignored the four decades between "the Clapton Beano album" (the Blues Breakers album of 66) and The Turning Point of 69 (a crowd pleasing Room to Move) to last year's Tough.

With a well-honed band which unfortunately rarely allowed Texas guitarist Rocky Athas sting and soar as he can - and had him literally out of the spotlight - Mayall was a genial and hard working frontman.

Whether it be nodding back to familiar material (All Your Love, Have You Ever Loved A Woman, Checking on My Baby, Parchman Farm, Pretty Woman - a tick-list from his heyday) or laughing when he started on harmonica in the wrong key.

At its best - the sultry jazz-blues of an extended California, the enjoyable interplay with Athas on Pretty Woman and with keyboard player Tom Canning in places, bassist Greg Rzab throwing in some Stanley Clarke funk and a snatch of Hendrix's Third Stone from the Sun - this was occasionally terrific.

But Mayall's vocal expression has always been limited, there was perhaps too much harmonica blues and better material on Tough to showcase than Nothing To Do With Love, and with Athas seldom off the leash to really build a solo, this was also a concert which was enjoyable rather than exciting, one which delivered rather than took flight.

But at 76, John Mayall - who looked in remarkable, cheerful condition - remains a rare one.

- NZ Herald

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