Last night Mayall brought his band to a packed house at The Hamilton, in Washington, DC and proved he is far from ready to take up the rocking chair. The blues man has stated that he thinks this band is one of his best, and last night they provided plenty of evidence to back that claim, with a stellar two hour set.
Before the show John Mayall was sitting at his merchandise table, shaking hands and signing autographs. Appearing relaxed on the surface, he declared, “We’re going to cook tonight!” And did they ever. They kicked off the evening with “Somebody’s Acting like a Child,” featuring Mayall on both piano and harp. From there they moved on to “Flooding in California” from the critically acclaimed 2014 cd A Special Life. It was clear from the onset, that this was not a nostalgia tour; that Mayall and the band were not here to throw a retirement party.
Over the course of the next two hours the band tore through material from Mayall’s lengthy career. On “Nature’s Disappearing,” Rocky Athas engaged Mayall in some spirited give and take, as the two traded guitar licks to the delight of the audience. Mayall stayed with the guitar for “Give Me One More Day,” which saw the elder statesman working the frets on a series of extended solos.
The entire band got the chance to shine several times throughout the night, most notably on the Freddie King song, “You Know That You Love Me but You Never Tell Me,” and Sonny Landreth’s “Congo Square,” which closed the set. Each member of the band got to stretch a bit and show why Mayall is so confidant in the group’s abilities. “Parchman Farm” gave Mayall the chance to romp on the harp, and, at one point, play piano simultaneously.
Throughout the night John Mayall was animated, clearly enjoying the camaraderie on stage, often pointing to, smiling at, and namechecking his cohorts. Rocky Athas on guitar, Greg Rzab on bass, and Jay Davenport on drums were perfect foils for Mayall’s master of ceremonies role. At 80, Mayall didn’t sit back, didn’t cruise through the material. Instead he invested himself in it fully, and delivered on the promise he had made earlier in the night.
Starting the evening off was Eli Cook, a Charlottesville blues guitar player. Playing resonator guitar, twelve strings acoustic, and stomp box he put on a powerful opening set with some excellent picking and slide work. His deep growling vocals seemed to come from some other place, and he was comfortable and confident in his delivery. He’s one to watch.