Photo by Keith Griner
In a riveting return to Los Angeles, JJ Grey and Mofro radiantly lit the lovelights of the downtown Regent Theater, bringing their electric soul-and-roll in support of their latest Ol’ Glory to a near-capacity house. The six-piece from Jacksonville, Florida tore through a two-hour set, careening between juke joint flash and jazz-combo improvisation, tethered tightly to the effervescent Grey and his unrelenting smile. Part sermon, part sin, from first note to last Grey and his band raised the spirits of a spirit-raising crowd eager to get up and get down.
On howling guitar for the opening “Hold On Tight,” or through the glowing blue cinders of “A Woman,” then to a confessional “Every Minute,” Grey drained every ounce of natural emotion he possessed, buttressed by the big beat of Anthony Cole and searing horn duo of Dennis Marion on trumpet and Jeff Dazey on saxophone. The designation of frontman suits him well, with Grey consuming the energy of his ensemble and his fans as equally as he gives it back. Shifting from guitar to tambourine to harmonica with ease, Grey stayed in constant motion, shaking and grooving and imploring the charged-up mass of swaying bodies to show its appreciation for an Andrew Trube guitar workout or Anthony Farrell keyboard vamp- himself as much an admirer of his own band as his audience.
Even on songs like “Brighter Days,” of which Grey described as being one written angry, his beaming, stage-strutting optimism, rivaled only by bassist Todd Smallie’s perma-grin, erased any ire. Smartly paced, with new ballad “Light a Candle” and the show-stopping, swampy slow “Lochloosa” juxtaposed with the pick-up prose of “Night to Remember” and self-explanatory “Slow Hot and Sweaty,” the sextet kept the exaltations in check with the exhales. Closing out the evening on the Ol’ Glory title track, a wicked hybrid of Sunday preaching and uptown Saturday night, Grey and Mofro left its fans at once worn out and invigorated.
JJ Grey has made no secret of his conscious conversion into a happier, more positive person and performer. It’s a change that has manifested itself into a celebratory show onstage and, with a repertoire reflective of his transformation, has turned every concert almost cathartic. Combined with a commanding band in Mofro that seemingly has no quit, it was, as Grey sang, a night to remember.