Thursday, April 11, 2019

John Mayall @ Bataclan, Paris - April 11th, 2019

Last time I saw John Mayall was about a quarter century ago. Back then, he was still playing with a version of the Bluesbreakers that included Texan guitarist Buddy Whittington. More tellingly, this was an era when Blues originators BB King, John Lee Hooker or Otis Rush were still alive and active on the live circuit.

Today, John Mayall is one of the elder statesmen of Blues music and he is no longer a facsimile. Along with Buddy Guy, he now as close to the real, authentic Blues as you can get. Thankfully, it doesn't matter that he's white and it doesn't matter that he's British: he is now one of the last performers that link us to the real, original source of that music we all love. Call it blues, call it rock, call it pop, call it whatever you want: it all comes from America and John Mayall is the bridge.

But the Bataclan wasn't full out of some historical caution. No one cruises on legitimacy alone. The crowd didn't gather here to hear a morbid tribute to a defunct idiom: the crowd gathered here to dance. It gathered here to drink. It gathered here to have fun. It gathered here because the Blues are alive and well and they are as current and as vital as they ever were.

John Mayall's current band include Greg Rzab on bass, Jay Davenport on drums and new member Carolyn Wonderland on lead guitar. It can't be easy replacing such guitar luminaries as Coco Montoya, Buddy Whittington, Walter Trout, Mick Taylor, Peter Green and Eric Clapton... but the Texan-born guitarist isn't out to replace anyone. She's here to play the blues, regardless of who preceded her on that stage. And every one of her lick, solo or intervention was met with a salvo of applause and cheer. She is, without a doubt, the next blues guitar superstar.

The band played a few songs off of the great new album Nobody Told Me but the centrepieces of the show were the two originals from the Chicago Line record released over thirty years ago: One Life To Live, a song about his time in the war in Korea, and Gimme One More Day about his struggle with the bottle.

However, the real treat for this reviewer was a rollicking version of Chris Smither's Mail Order Mystics as recorded by the Bluesbreakers on their Wake Up Call LP: a bluesy, funky, hard-rocking, pychedelic ten-minute jam complete with guitar, harmonica, keyboards, bass and drum solos where every player got the chance to stretch and express themselves.

The last thing we saw as we left the venue was the same thing we saw as we came in: the star of the show, sitting at a table, signing records, selling merchandise, taking pictures with his audience. An 85 year-old performer who has made it his mission to be a transmitter. A vessel. An ambassador for the Blues.

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