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Bluesman John Mayall displays his abiding talent at Knuckleheads

John Mayall
John Mayall File photo

John Mayall defied his age at Knuckleheads on Wednesday. The vocal and instrumental prowess of the 82-year-old British blues musician was nearly as strong as ever during a nuanced 100-minute concert that ended before 10 p.m.

An influential statesman on the British blues scene in the 1960s, Mayall’s band the Bluesbreakers served as a prestigious academy for nascent rock stars. Eric Clapton is among the prominent musicians who served a tutelage under Mayall.

Anyone at Wednesday’s show who was hoping to discover the next guitar prodigy was disappointed. Mayall is in the midst of his first tour in a trio format. Backed by the veteran rhythm section of bassist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport, Mayer sang and played keyboards, harmonica and guitar.

Mayall is dexterous for a person of any age. He blew mean harmonica licks as he wielded the instrument in his left hand and evoked the Kansas City boogie-woogie piano titan Pete Johnson with his right hand during “Mother In Law Blues.”

On a robust reading of Albert King’s “Oh, Pretty Woman,” Mayall sang with the ardor of a man a quarter of his age and energetically massaged a portable organ as if he were attempting to conjure a genie. His vocalese on “Room to Move” was even more maniacal than on the hit version from his 1969 album “The Turning Point.”

A fascinating guitar solo on “Move It Out and Move It On” evoked two former Bluesbreakers. Mayall’s surprising choices recalled the ingenious work of Peter Green (later a member of Fleetwood Mac) while his fluidity was similar to the style of Mick Taylor (later a member of the Rolling Stones). Mayall transformed the insistent whine of a passing train into a novel whistle-keyboard duet on a jazz-infused interpretation of “Not at Home.”

Rzab’s funk-based work on “Chicago Line” was incongruous, but his percussive playing compelled Mayall to show off a few agile dance moves. Most members of the audience declined to follow his lead.

Noting the casual atmosphere, Mayall joked that “too many audiences go silent when the song starts — too much respect, which you guys don’t have.”

While the highly refined version of the blues may not have pleased a few boisterous patrons, Mayall’s impressive showcase of his abiding talent merited unqualified respect.

Set list

Mother In Law Blues; Oh, Pretty Woman; Early in the Morning; Parchman Farm; Not at Home; Moving Out and Moving On; The Sum of Something; A Special Life; Walking on Sunset; Stormy Monday Blues; Chicago Line; Room to Move

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