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Saturday, 14 January 2012 16:03

Concert review: JJ Grey & Mofro (with JC Brooks) fill the Pageant with warm southern soul and blues, Friday, January 13

Concert review: JJ Grey & Mofro (with JC Brooks) fill the Pageant with warm southern soul and blues, Friday, January 13 / You Can Call Me Clay
Written by Amy Burger
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The temps may have been well below freezing outside, but things were hot inside the Pageant last night as Jacksonville, Fla. native JJ Grey and his band Mofro infused the packed venue with their special brand of swampy, southern blues rock.

The band was recently nominated for Canada's top blues award -- the B.B. King International Artist of the Year Award. The winner will be announced on Monday at the 15th Annual Maple Blues Awards in Toronto. They also recently released their first live CD/DVD set, "Brighter Days," available on their website.

The party atmosphere kicked into gear as the opener, Chicago soul outfit J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound, took to the stage, fresh off the air from an in-studio performance on KDHX show Gold Soundz. The leader of this throwback band, Brooks, strode out looking like a cross between James Brown and Little Richard in a black suit and white shirt with a red kerchief and a piled high Jheri curl. With elements of classic '60s soul and '70s disco with a post-punk sensibility, the band manages to bring a fresh, new sound while paying homage to its roots. They performed a number of originals as well as some cool covers, including "Tainted Love" and an up-tempo, funky version of Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart." Throughout their set, Brooks delighted the crowd with his smooth dance moves, gliding and shaking across the stage.

The floor was filled with fans eager to dance as JJ Grey & Mofro began their set, Grey smiling broadly and growling -- in his signature, soul-filled voice -- the lyrics to "War," as organist Anthony Farrell's fingers tore across the keys like a hurricane. Mofro is one tight band, including the amazing Andrew Trube on electric and lap steel guitar, bassist Todd Smallie (a St. Louis native), drummer Anthony Cole and two-piece horn section featuring trumpeter Dennis Marion and saxophonist Art Edmaiston.

The audience sang along with the chorus to the groovy "Air," from the band's first album "Blackwater" (when they were known simply as Mofro). Introducing fan favorite "Brighter Days," Grey took a moment to reflect, talking about how he wrote the song when things didn't seem so bright and explaining how songs change their meanings through the years. Now in a happier place, he uses it as a reminder of when they weren't.

He finally grabbed the harmonica for the down and dirty “Country Ghetto,” working the crowd down front into a dancing frenzy. Ever the storyteller, he introduced the reflective "Circles" with a tale his grandfather used to tell him about two feuding Florida families. He then mused about his grandmother, about whom he wrote the song "Georgia Warhorse," a hard blues tune that provided outstanding solos by Trube on the lap steel and Edmaiston on the sax, before moving on to the more lighthearted "Fireflies."

During the song about their home state, "Florida," Grey played harmonica, facing off for solos with each band member, the highlight of which was an intense back and forth with Marion on trumpet. Next was the sultry grind of "Slow, Hot and Sweaty," followed by what is probably the band's most pop influenced tune, the catchy "Orange Blossoms."

Grey saved soul-driven "Lochloosa," one of his more personal tunes, and the one fans perhaps adore most, for the encore, musing as he typically does about its subject, a lake near his Florida home that's his special place where he goes to get back to "what's real." He held the mic over the crowd, encouraging their participation in singing the chorus, "Homesick but it's all right, Lochloosa is on my mind."

Determined to end things on a high note, they closed the show with the cranked-up, funky jam "Ho Cake" about a smorgasbord of Grey's granny's southern cooking, featuring a guest turn by St. Louis-based harmonica legend Rockin' Jake. As always, JJ Grey & Mofro put on a joyous party of a show, fully displaying both their incredible musical skills and their unwavering passion.

Not quite ready for the music to end, however, we spilled into the adjoining Halo Bar (much more pleasant now that it's smoke-free), for a just as high-energy post-show set by KDHX's own Andy Coco and the Rhythm Section Road Show. Mofro drummer Anthony Cole stood down front, bobbing his head and grinning, as Edmaiston and Marion showed up with their horns and sat in for a few tunes, keeping the party going into the wee hours.

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