The evening started with an odd bit of foreshadowing. When John Mayall and his band took to the stage, Mayall went straight to the mic to do the formal introductions calling each member out by name.
To Mayall’s right was Greg Rzab on bass, behind him was Jay Davenport on drums, and to his left was Rocky Athas on guitar. Pointing back to the drum kit Mayall shouted out the drummer’s name. Turning to his left he name checked Athas. As he began to turn back towards his right, Rzab tiptoed behind Mayall’s back to the guitarist’s side of the stage.
Mayall then proceeded to walk slowly towards the far right, peering around the amplifier, looking for his wayward bass player. Coming back around Mayall feigned surprise, and leaning into his microphone exclaimed, “Oh, so it’s going to be one of those nights, is it?”
From there the show took off and rocked hard for a solid two hours. Along the way Mayall’s occasionally goofy banter, his mugging glances to Rzab throughout, and an extended scatting-turned-into-comedy routine left the audience alternately cheering and laughing. One got the sense that Rzab and Mayall were continuing some long running inside joke that had started earlier in the day. And while he takes his art seriously, Mayall was anything but businesslike unless, that is, your business is fun.
The evening began with “Dancing Shoes” and was followed by “Somebody’s Acting Like a Child.” On the latter Mayall played both piano and harmonica while the band laid down a soulful foundation from the rhythm section, allowing Athas to burn up the fretboard. The song also served as a notice of sorts, Mayall was in the mood to blow his harp.
Mayall’s show at the Hamilton two years ago was wonderful, but perhaps it was the closeness to the audience in this smaller club that seemed to energize the band. The Tin Pan seats 180, with excellent sightlines, and the intimacy of the venue made for a vibe that seemed to feed on itself and grow as the evening went on.
There were other differences from the Hamilton show. At the Tin Pan Mayall played guitar only once, on “One Life to Live.” The song, which is about Mayall’s time in the Army serving in Korea, seemed to liberate something in Mayall, as he playfully engaged first Athas and then Rzab in a guitar duel.
Mayall introduced each song, often with offhand comments like, “This is from one of the earlier albums, I can’t remember which one, there are so many.” “Not at Home” became a jam session, with everyone in the band taking a piece of the spotlight. Athas offered up a razor sharp lead guitar, showing the sold-out room why Mayall had been so keen to hire him. Davenport took an authoritative turn on drums, pounding the skins with conviction. Rzab then produced what would be the first of many highlights, his nimble fingers walking the neck of the bass, his timing with Davenport so spot-on that it seemed the two men were linked on a molecular level. Mayall accompanied himself on harp and piano, clowning and mugging with Rzab during the bassist’s solo.
“Feel So Bad’” from Find A Way to Care had Mayall blowing the harp like a madman. Two songs later the eighty-two-year-old blues man slid effortlessly into scatting on a jazzy, swinging number entitled “The Sum of Something.” Mayall added, “It’s from one of those albums…there’s about sixty of them.”
The night was full of unique moments for the audience and the band. The pinnacle of the show was “Chicago Line” which Mayall said was on his first album in 1964. The song was driven along by Mayall’s propulsive harp. As it progressed most of the crowd joined in clapping, several pounding in time on the tables where they were seated. It was full tilt boogie for the band as each member got even longer solos, with Rzab taking the lion’s share of the work. In his time in the spotlight Rzab put on a clinic on how to play different styles, jazzy one moment and funky the next, slapping the bass then moving on to delicate, spacey notes, he seemed to make the most of his opportunity.
It was at this point that Mayall went back to scatting and turned it up a notch. Several notches. The scatting solo turned into a chance for Mayall to use just about any sound the voice can make. Percussive noises, squeals and grunts, clicking sounds, it became both astounding and comical. At one point, a patron left his table to move towards the restroom. As he passed the stage Mayall turned the scatting towards the man. Waving his arms and pointing at him, Mayall scatted towards the customer as if he were a nagging wife scolding her man. The crowd erupted in laughter, while Mayall kept in time with the band. All in all the song clocked in somewhere near fifteen minutes long.
The standing ovation brought the group back for an encore, “All Your Love” from the Beano album. Throughout the show Mayall was loose and goofy, smiling and laughing, and playing his heart out. The lasting impression was that of a man clearly in love with and pursuing his muse.