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PHOTOS: Keb’ Mo’ brings the blues to Reno in a good way

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Five-time Grammy Award winner Keb’ Mo’ played in the Grand Theatre of the Grand Sierra Resort on Sept. 15. He brought with him his easy-going, playful and amusing attitude, along with mountains of talent. 

His stage setup was simple—three small risers for his four-man band, instruments and amps. That’s all it took to captivate the audience for 90 minutes.

The blues genre is well-populated. Not everybody likes the blues, but those who do are loyal to the artists they love. Keb Mo’ has an open and clean style to his playing—a gentle and soothing type of blues—that is immediately recognizable as all his own. 

He brings a Delta blues style to his playing with lots of slide guitar. When he hits it hard, and the bass is thumping, it’s hard not to get up and move your hips. It’s been 12 years since I last saw him up at South Lake Tahoe. The Grand Sierra Resort did a good thing bringing him to town.

Scott Mulvahill opened the show playing solo on upright bass with vocals. He played a fantastic short set. In one of his songs, he shared that he stole a trick from Paul Simon by instantly modulating from the key of E to F. Of course, that made me hear how much he sounded like Simon, at least on that song. He was a great opener.

After a short intermission, Keb’ Mo’ and his band, Zachariah Witcher, Dane Farnsworth and Casey Wasner, sauntered onto the stage to a warm greeting from a crowd that was ready for some Delta blues.

They started off with “Muddy Water” and “Everything I Need,” both from his 1998 release, “Slow Down,” which was his second album to earn him a Grammy. Of course, whoops, cheers and applause followed with Keb’ offering a quick, “Reno, how you doing?” before sliding quickly into “Government Cheese,” a ditty about the handing out of millions of pounds of government stockpiled cheese to Americans in the early ’80s. The song was enhanced with fantastic bass guitar and keyboard solos.

Next, he shared a couple of slow-paced blues songs about love and support. “Somebody Hurt You” featured Keb’s first stellar guitar solo of the evening, and “All Dressed Up” got a little slow and sad, as the blues so often do.

Keb’ Mo’ at the Grand Sierra Resort’s Grand Theatre Sept. 15, 2023 in Reno, Nev. Image: Nick McCabe / This Is Reno

One of the high points of the evening was the performance of “Life Is Beautiful” from the 2006 album “Suitcase.” It’s a beautifully written, uplifting and positive song that made me smile and clap along. Farnswoth added a piano solo tinged with the sound of nostalgia that abruptly stopped, with a moment of pause for crowd reaction, before Keb’ brought it back in with a punctuated ending. The uplifting tone continued with “Good To Be (Home Again).”

Life is beautiful, life is wondrous

Every star above shining just for us. – Keb’ Mo’

At this point, Keb’ told the band that he was changing the setlist and called his guitar tech to bring him a special guitar. He sat down and told a story about sitting in his room that day enjoying his cubical, as he called it, and pondering where else in the universe this was going on. He then played the soft, somber and amazing “Infinity Eyes” on his National Dobro. 

There were many high points as the evening progressed. Witcher had a great bass solo in “Shave Yo Legs.” The room started jumping with “Perpetual Blues Machine,” and it didn’t slow down. They moved instantly into “I Remember You” which had another killer Keb’ Mo’ guitar solo. The dancing had begun.

As if to toy with the audience, he dropped the tempo down with the Muddy Waters-style “Dangerous Mood,” which drew a big crowd response. 

The pre-encore closer of “The Worst Is Yet To Come” followed, and the crowd responded with enthusiasm.

After the briefest of exits, the band came back and played “She Just Wants To Dance. It couldn’t have been a more appropriate time to play that song. Lots of howling took place during this one. As this ended he thanked the crowd and said, “I must be crazy for doing this,” and finished the evening with the gentle, finger-picking solo “City Boy.

After 53 years of performing, the 71-year-old Mo’ still has the energy, enthusiasm and joyful presentation of a younger man. The only thing that gives away his age is the white patch on his chin. 

THE BAND

  • Keb’ Mo’ – Guitars, Dobro, Lead Vocals
  • Zachariah Witcher – Bass guitar, Vocals
  • Dane Farnsworth – Keyboards, Vocals
  • Casey Wasner – Drums, Vocals

SET LIST

  • Muddy Water
  • Everything I Need
  • Government Cheese
  • Somebody Hurt You
  • All Dressed Up
  • Life Is Beautiful
  • Good To Be (Home Again)
  • Infinity Eyes
  • Shave Yo Legs
  • Am I wrong
  • Perpetual Blues Machine

Encore

  • She Just Wants To Dance
  • City Boy
Nick McCabe
Nick McCabe
Nick McCabe is a Reno-based photojournalist and musician. He’s been shooting concerts in the Reno-Tahoe area since 2006 and writing articles and reviews since 2012, as well as doing interviews on occasion. His musical education and playing experience goes back to 1967. He is a founding member of the Reno Tahoe Forte’ Awards, and he still plays music locally for enjoyment. First concert: Jimi Hendrix. Last concert: we’ll see.

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