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.”
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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.
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