The Godfather of British Blues
Going to this gig was a true impulse action, since I am far off from being an expert on John Mayall. Knowing his impact on British Blues, however, I did not want to miss out the opportunity to see a musician who had so much influence on the development of a whole genre.
John Mayall, or „The Godfather of British Blues“, as he is often referred to, began publishing blues music with his Bluesbreakers in the early 1960s and has since had lots of projects with musicians such as Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce (who later left to form Cream) or Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood (who became Fleetwood Mac), as well as Mick Taylor who joined the Rolling Stones. It is thus obvious that this man is a talent one should not miss out on seeing.
So there we were, my brother and me, standing somewhat in the middle of the crowd at Porgy&Bess in Vienna. And to make things official: I shall not go to a sold-out concert there ever again. The heat was unbearable, the air unbreathable. Moreover, we had to wait ages before we were even able to get into the club, and then the staff forced us to hand over our jackets – a thing I rarely do when going to a concert. I was thus quite displeased with the location, even though it does have a nice ambience.
But now to the music. There were some things about John Mayall and his group (Rocky Athas on guitar, Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums) that did impress me, such as Mayall switching back and forth between guitar, harmonica and keys while singing the entire set by himself – which does include the risk of hitting a few wrong keys not even Mayall was immune to. The drummer was fantastic, and the bassist had some impressing tricks which he showed off during his solo towards the end of the show. I was also convinced by the strength and quality of Mayall’s voice.
Sadly boring setlist
The guitarist, however, left a rather meek impression on me. Generally, the setlist and song arrangements were – sadly – quite boring. When going to a blues concert, what I expect to hear are pain and agony – which is mainly what the Blues is about. But Mayall and band seemed to find it more fitting to play mainly happy clap-along songs. Is it because that is what the audience craves? I personally was quite disappointed. Within the two-hour set there were only two or three „deeper“ songs, including Dirty Water and Stormy Monday, which were the two highlights of the evening. During Stormy Monday was the only time I felt goosebumps (or rather bluesbumps, as I now find to be the more fitting term) – which, for a true blues gig, is simply not enough.
It is not as though Mayall does not have tons of songs like that in his repertoire – he just did not play them. And the question remains: why?
Comparing Mayall to Eric Burdon – another blues legend – whom I saw in summer at the Lovely Days Festival 2015, my expectations were definitely not fulfilled. I cannot be mad with the man though. He did really put his energy into the show and had such a warm and welcoming attitude – maybe the next concert will be at a better time, at a better venue, with a more exciting setlist.
Author: Robin Frank
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