The Scene: It was a hot one on Sunday, mid nineties hot, so when we walked up to the Gardens about 4pm and found that our spot in line was squarely behind a tree we couldn’t have been happier. Up ahead of us, there were several groups huddled together under umbrellas that weren’t shielding them from rain, but sun! The line quickly grew behind us and soon stretched well around the block and on down towards Cheesman Park. As it was a sold-out show, there were a couple of scalpers scamming folks out of their hard earned cash, but it looked to me like tickets were still going for right around face value and the guys peddling them were getting a workout in the sun without a ton of reward.
As the 6pm door time came upon us, we put away snacks and clutched our beers or wine as we herded ourselves toward the gates only to wait for nearly 30 more minutes for the Gardens staff to open the doors. Who knows what the hold-up was, maybe they were still sound-checking, or maybe there was a wedding on the grounds that they didn’t want us disrupting. Either way it took a while to get in to the venue but once we were there, everyone unpacked their picnics and we settled in for a relatively mellow night of music.
Opener: Sunny War. From the moment she took the stage she seemed nervous and she didn’t hide it, even going to the extreme of telling us she might puke on stage and asking us not to clap at the end of her songs because it reminded her of how many people were watching her. While it seemed to take her a few songs to compose herself, War was soon cracking dry jokes and settled into her 30 minute set nicely. As her fingers danced, claw-hammer style, on the strings of an acoustic guitar that looked gigantic strapped to her tiny frame, her voice instantly transported us back into the 60’s where folk singers sang protest songs on the street corners and in the coffee shops of Greenwich Village in New York.
On the heels of a somber number, she introduced the next song as a “more fun song about Vietnam. It’s called ‘Body Count.'” While it’s a bit of a morbid joke, she got some good laughs from the packed lawn who paid no heed to her request not to clap and gave her loud ovations as she ended each song. A little later in the set, she looked around and cracked another off at the expense of all the married people in attendance: “It looks like a lot of people are married here so I have a song for them. It’s called ‘Social Suicide.'” More raucous laughter came from the four hillsides and it was clear that War was winning over the audience as the chatter while she was playing began to die down. As she walked up the hillside after her set, she received a well deserved ovation and several folks followed her up to the top of the venue to get another taste of her dry wit.
Keb’ Mo': Let’s start with the fact that I’ve been a fan of Keb’ Mo’ (born Kevin Moore) since way back in 1995 and what hooked me was his folksy take on acoustic blues. Songs from his debut self title release like “Every Morning,” “Angelina,” “Victims of Comfort,” and his version of Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” just wormed their way into my soul all those years ago and I still put that record on from time to time. So, naturally, I was hoping for a set that featured a healthy dose of songs from that album and showcased his acoustic blues prowess, unfortunately, Moore has developed into more of an adult contemporary artist over the years and he only played two tracks from his debut. The rest of the set was strong, though there was a bit of a dentist office feel to some of the tunes.
Moore started the set by welcoming a good friend of his to the stage to play Saxophone on a couple of numbers before he had to head up to Boulder for another engagement. I didn’t catch the guys name, but he wailed on the Sax and provided an interesting counterpoint to Moore’s guitar on the opener, a cover of The Eagles classic “One Of These Nights.” The band then launched in “Government Cheese,” a tongue in cheek track featured on Moore’s live record Live and Mo’ before paying tribute to one of his idols with the opening track to his 1998 record Slow Down, “Muddy Water.”
From the get-go it was clear that the band was tight, really tight. He had a bass player, drummer, Hammond B-3 player, keyboardist, and a multi-instrumentalist backing him up and they never missed a beat. While the sound that they cranked out for most of the night leaned a little more toward light rock than the delta blues I was hoping for, it was still great to hear “Perpetual Blues Machine” given the full band treatment as folks started to crowd to the edge of the stage to get their groove on.
About six songs into the set, Moore introduced the crowd to a track from his new record The Reflection called “The Whole Enchilada” and seemed to really appreciate the warm reception that it received. In fact, each of the four original tracks he played from the new record stood out as highlights of the hour and 45 minute set. From the heart warming message of “We Don’t Need It” to the disco-like feel of “Just Lookin'” that showed up in the encore, it was great to hear such strong new songs from the seasoned veteran. Other highlights of the set included a stellar version of “Dangerous Mood” that was punctuated by a searing bluesy guitar solo and gave me a bit of the blues fix I was looking for out of the evening, and the shows closer, “She Just Want’s To Dance,” that had every hand on the lawn clapping along in time.
Throughout the set Moore’s giant smile infectiously beamed out at the audience as he sang and when he came back out for the encore he proved that he was a nice a guy as it seemed when he agreed to play a request for the 88th birthday of an audience member. From the very beginning of the show a sign could be spotted up front that read “Play ‘Eileen’ For Eileen’s 88th Birthday” and when the night was just about over Moore acknowledged the sign, waved the band off, called for an acoustic guitar, and proceed to play the song solo and sing to the birthday girl who stood proudly at the side of the stage. It was quite a moment and before closing the show with “City Boy” he took a minute or more to talk with Eileen who had made her way down front and center.
Judging by the standing ovation he received as he walked up the hill, it was quite a night for everyone The Gardens, but I’m sure that Eileen will remember this one for the rest of her days. Happy Birthday Eileen, thanks for helping to make the evening so memorable.
Stage Presence: A-
Set / Light show: C