JJ Grey & MOFRO
The Jefferson Theater
November 17, 2010
JJ Grey and MOFRO play simple, uncluttered, and heartfelt rock-n-roll that is delivered without pretense or apology, and the legion of fans that crowded into The Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, VA were primed and ready to drink it up all night. JJ manages to put himself in his songs in such a way that it makes his audience connect with him. A solid three quarter capacity crowd got what it came for over the course of two hours on a Wednesday night.
The Jefferson Theater has been reopened for a year now after a three year renovation project. In short, they did a fantastic job. MOFRO was a perfect fit for this hall The theater is small and intimate, without a bad seat in the house and possesses a very good lighting set up and excellent sound. However, through the renovation, the venue has maintained its elegance from the time it was born, in 1912, a feat that at which many similarly renovated venues have failed.
JJ Grey and MOFRO easily held folks’ attention through the night by not staying overly thematic in their song selection. Rather they vacillated between earnest ballads that were rich in story telling about JJ’s family and beloved home state of Florida and energetic upbeat rock and low down gritty funk. Their skill shone as they managed to maintain a constant vibe without anything being lost in the polarity of sound.
MOFRO’s drummer, Anthony Cole, plays a stripped down kit, including only a snare, kick drum, two ride cymbals, and a high hat. Still, his skill makes the most of this, especially during the driving rock or funk songs that make the stage and audience come alive. Art Edmaiston on sax and Dennis Marion on trumpet kept a constant church choir two step back and forth until the music got funky, at which time their steps became good enough to make a Motown group blush. Cole and bassist Todd Smallie adorned an unvarying grin and all of this provided a great back drop to Grey’s passionate deliveries.
This was the second night of this leg of their tour, supporting their fifth album Georgia War Horse. But the show was not one devoted to their new material in its entirety, but did include several songs including the title track and a song for his daughter "The Sweetest Thing." Interspersing songs from their previous four albums, the outfit’s ever growing catalogue was perused well.
When the band came back on to play encores, they started with the JJ Grey classic, "Lochloosa." This began with Grey on the Hammond organ until he was replaced by MOFRO’s keyboard player, Anthony Farrell. JJ took up his harmonica as the rest of the band came back and they spun a truly great version of this song, getting the crowd to sing along as they had done several times through the night. They finished up with the energetic funk tune that would in turn become what was perhaps the best moment of the night in "On Fire." Both horn players came to the front of the stage along with guitarist Andrew Trube and Grey on harmonica for an extended jam with perpetual soloing by crescendo that demonstrated the collective power and musical aptitude of this ensemble.
The crowd was delirious by the end and the whole band stepped out together for a group bow. It was easy to see the joy on the band’s face as they soaked up the applause. This band loves what it does, and this fact was definitely not lost on the crowd in Charlottesville.