OF BLUES AND SPACIOUS SKIES

Why you have to go find a Keb Mo CD immediately

2/07/01

I have been telling anyone who would stand still for three seconds to listen to my musical discovery of the year. Okay, decade, because I haven’t fallen so madly in love with anyone’s music since U2’s Joshua Tree. I can’t MAKE you go listen. But maybe this account will help capture some of the vivid life in his work…

The magnificent Keb Mo was in concert at the Fillmore Auditorium (that would be the Fillmore in Denver, not THE Fillmore in San Francisco) which turned out to be a delightful small concert hall, more like a ballroom, with seating along the sides at cocktail tables, and open space in the floor. It very much had the feeling of hippie chic–enormous chandeliers under purple spots, murals along the stage. Intimate. Waitresses brought beer around, and we nibbled excellent, very hot chicken fingers while we waited for the show to begin, watching the crowd.

The crowd. I’ve been to a lot of blues concerts and clubs, and this crowd was a big surprise. It was almost entirely white, middle aged and upscale. Now, Denver is a white, upscale sort of place, but this is a blues concert, and one would think…well, just that it would be more mixed. I was very glad that I’d decided at the last minute to wear the black jeans and black sweater I’d had on all day, instead of the black dress and tall, sexy heels I would have chosen for anything to do with the blues in St. Louis. This was not a crowd that dressed up.

Whatever the race, the crowd was most enthusiastic, and huge. The band was startled by the size of it, and our absolute adoration of them. They gave a fabulous, long performance, more than two hours, and I heard a good many of my own favorites (the only one I really minded not hearing was “Angelina” which is light and sweet and I love it, but they couldn’t play everything, after all).

I have no words to capture the wonder of this man’s appeal. He’s tall and skinny and no longer young. He wore a silvery suit, something my husband called sharkskin, though we weren’t close enough to tell for sure, and he has hands the size of dinner plates. He wore his trademark hat, but soon took it off to show his shiny head. And we loved him for every detail, for the richness of that voice that is so very fine, even in a genre known for good voices–his sounds like evening, like the very last notes of a summer day. He writes the blues in a way that comes home to this moment in time, and makes you remember the arc of the blues over a century of hard luck and fast women and those moments of perfect, aching love.

But his grace note sums up just how fabulous he is. We’d cheered them back on stage twice, and he came out the third time alone. He carried his guitar to the center front of the stage, and the lights went down around him, leaving him a straight silver pillar in the vast darkness, only the soft purple chandeliers overhead.

He said, “In honor of inauguration day–” the crowd groaned and booed a little, and he shook his head, “Nah, now don’t be like that. In honor of inauguration day, I decided to sing one last song.”

He bent into the microphone. “Oh beautiful,” he sang, so slowly, so sweetly, “for spacious skies….”

And he kept singing the first verse until we realized he was leaving room for us to sing with him. It startled us, but we joined in. And he led us…

“O beautiful for heroes proved/ In liberating strife. …”

Two thousand blues fans, stood in the dark and sang along, and Keb Mo stepped back and let us, our voices rising up as they hadn’t since grade school. He nudged us here and there, guitar and evening voice wrapping us up in an orchestrated moment of pride….

“America, America….”

…where some of us were so startled by the emotions we wiped away tears, and everyone sang one last verse, and we realized there would be no blues without America, and none of us would be there, and yeah, it’s corny, and yeah we’re cynical and don’t like to be patriots much these days, but wow….every so often, it feels good to stop and remember, for all the wrongs, there are a lot of rights….

And Keb Mo said to us softly, “Good night.”

For more on Keb Mo visit his site at www.kebmo.com

Till next time….

Barbara

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