Blues legends don't stop in town all that often.
Blues guitarist and singer Taj Mahal made a stop on Friday at the Holland Performing Arts Center and he got folks on their feet.
Between Mahal's gritty playing, people getting up to dance and the singer's choice lyrics about the female anatomy, the pristine Holland Center felt like a dirty, down-South blues club. Between songs, the audience shouted, clapped and yelled out questions for the blues legend.
Throughout the fantastic show, Mahal played songs such as “Checkin' on My Baby” from his first album as well as “Fishin' Blues” from 1969, as well as newer world music-influenced tunes. My only complaint is that, at only 70 minutes, the concert from the 71-year-old Mahal was unfortunately short.
In a flower-print shirt and wide-brimmed hat, Mahal groaned like Howlin Wolf and finger-picked a trio of guitars. Mahal doesnt' play not perfectly the way a guitar teacher might want him to, but you gotta love the way he plays with character. He's a physical player that puts his hips into his playing his trademark groan (“Unh!”) in every little pick and groove.
As the Taj Mahal Trio, Mahal played with a drummer as well as bassist Billy Rich, an Omaha native. Throughout the set, Rich quietly played bass on every song, but his expertly thumping low notes were the foundation upon which Taj Mahal built his blues scales.
The opening artists were also a huge part of the concert. Mahal's daughter, Deva Mahal, has a powerful voice and some serious talent.
Vusi Mehlasela, known as “The Voice” of South Africa, came next picking an acoustic guitar and singing in several languages that included Englisha nd Zulu. He sang about the beauty of his home country as well as apartheid and police brutality.
Though some tunes had a serious tone, others were totally fun that saw Mehlasela dancing and smiling. And though he mostly sang in other languages, I still felt like I understood the songs based solely off Mehlasela's passion and emotion.
Mahal's set took on a new life when he welcome those other artists to the stage. The first half of his set was selected from his best blues songs. The second half lived up to the night's billing, “World Blues,” with the inclusion of other musicians and rhythms, melodies and song styles from all kinds of world music.
One tune took on a reggae flavor with Mahal on a ukulele and Rich's bass playing taking center stage. Later, Mehlasela picked up a guitar and joined Mahal to play “Zanzibar,” a song that was a combo of blues and Mehlasela's African rhythm.
For “Lovin' in My Baby's Eyes,” Deva Mahal took the stage and dueted with her father, who played a copper-colored resonator guitar.
Mehlasela and Deva Mahal joined Taj Mahal and his band for the finale, a fun version of “Everybody is Somebody. Many in the audience got on their feet to dance, clap along and sing the refrain to the uplifting song, which would be right at home in a Disney movie.