JJ Grey & Mofro released their seventh studio album Ol’ Glory last week and took to the road to celebrate. The band pulled into the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, VA on Wednesday, March 4, a night ahead of the East Coast’s most recent snow storm, to heat up the stately renovated old venue.
The nearly sold out Wednesday night crowd didn’t need much help getting into the show, but got a quick charge of adrenaline when the band opened with fan favorite “Brighter Days.” Playing such an anthem to start the night foretold that Grey had many things he needed to get to, most importantly his new material. Mofro played six of the twelve new songs from Ol’ Glory, demonstrating that Grey’s self-revealing and soulful song writing shows no indication of slowing down.
Highlights of the new material included “A Night to Remember,” a bouncy R&B song with a tasty horn track reminiscent of the best of the Stax label’s Memphis Horns. Then the album’s title track “Ol’ Glory” served as the final encore. From the opening Fender Rhodes keyboard sound and the infectious and fast horn line, the song settles on the back of the hard driving and funky bass line. This song whipped the crowd into a frenzy and left everybody wanting more.
The musical highlights of the night came on two trusted favorites. “Lochloosa” is a song that never disappoints live, and although the band plays this song regularly, the power of “Lochloosa” consistently brings out the best in Mofro. The second came during the song “Ho Cake,” which was extended to allow the band to stretch out. This was an electric twenty minutes of music showing what a group of road warrior musicians can do after playing together for years.
The scene was set for this moment with a beautiful set design. A gigantic tapestry hanging across the back of the stage depicted the new album cover and gave the sense you were looking out a picture window onto an old tree in a meadow. The stage was adorned with lamps and end tables further giving the sense you were watching these guys in the comfort of their living room.
After the initial verse and chorus, the band took off on a ride, bringing the audience with them. Bassist Todd Smallie and drummer Anthony Cole play together like they were brothers brought up in the same house. They play with joy, constantly adding little things and watching each other react. The rest of the band gets in on it as well and before long the musical conversation has gotten deep. As solos bounce around from one bandmate to the next, the supporting cast listens and reacts, displaying an understanding that was born out of hundreds and hundreds of nights playing together. Capping it off when the vocals return, Grey tries to stump the band with how he approaches the lyric’s rhythm. The band never misses a stop, leaving everyone laughing together like best friends.
JJ Grey is an honest and adept front man, building a band deserving of his heavyweight talent. This is a can’t miss tour and if you are a fan you need to get out and see it.