Keb Mo: Home for the Holidays at Cerritos
By Glen Creason
The first time Keb Mo visited Cerritos as a warm-up act he demonstrated talent so impressive it was evident that he would return for greater glory. That night he seemed to be a torchbearer of true Southern Blues music with an authentic gutbucket growl and a virtuoso touch on the slide guitar. He has returned several times since, growing in stature with each visit and is now in a small handful of Southern California musicians who are at the top of their game. I would go further and say he is the best local artist we have around these parts, surpassing the guys in Los Lobos and greats like Dave Alvin. Keb Mo has evolved from a blues messenger to a singer of poignant ballads and new-Blues that expose young people to that great tradition while winning a wider audience with his poetic lyrics and superb guitar skills.
It was truly home for the holidays at Cerritos with his Mom in the house and an enthusiastic crowd reacting joyfully to almost two dozen gems he performed with style and a cool that was only broken by passionate readings of some touching ballads.
There were the undulating blues beauties like “Loola Loo,” “Whole Enchilada,” “Shave Yo’ Legs,” “Soon As I Get Paid” and “Dangerous Mood” that had sections rocking in time across the big hall. The man is always in command and his crisp guitar work seems to flow effortlessly from a number of instruments ranging from picking a flattop to an electric resophonic guitar to a steel-bodied beauty that sings with the bottle neck playing.
He has expanded his scope away from the traditional Blues with darker tales, now telling his own very optimistic hybrid of songs that strum heartstrings and ring very true to the times. Truly exceptional song-writing and performing were showcased in beauties like “Every Morning,” “Stand Up and Be Strong,” “I’ll Be Your Water,” “the Door Is Always Open” and the deeply moving “We Don’t Need It” that was an anthem worthy of the worst and best of 2011.
There was also plenty of just plain funky fun stuff like “Government Cheese,” “I See Love” “Suitcase” and the extended, high-voltage jam of “Gimme What You Got” that even separated some fans from their seats and set the hall to dancing. Keb Mo’s band is excellent in support of his guitar wizardry; equally terrific were Vail Johnson on bass, Jeff Paris on mandolin, Michael Hicks on organ, soulful Kevin So on keyboards and Les Falconer whose drum work was right on the mark. Oh yes, there were some holiday tunes mixed in with the ballads and blues that made the Christmas tree on stage make sense. “Jingle Bell Jamboree” was the best in the Christmas tree lot but “We Call It Christmas,” a loosely interpreted “Jingle Bells” and “the Christmas Song” sung for his dear Mom made the season bright indeed. While Keb Mo only played a portion of his music in the Yule spirit he did follow the poignant line of the show opener “the more you give, the more you receive.” He gave another superb show and received a standing ovation that he humbly accepted with the full band.