Gallery & Review: JJ Grey & Mofro
Images by Erin and Benjamin Slayter
(Ferndale, Detroit, Michigan) JJ Grey and Mofro have been bringing their unique blend of backwater sound to concert stages for over ten years. We originally caught them at the Social in Orlando, Florida in November of 2002, playing to a crowd of about 50. Sunday night in Detroit was a different story: over 500 people paid the $20.00 ticket price resulting in a sold-out show.
The biggest surprises of the night were the opening acts Daryl Hance and JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound. Â Daryl Hance (guitar) has been with JJ since the beginnings of Mofro and during this recent tour has been playing with Mofro’s Anthony Cole, drums and Todd Smallie, bass. His material was laid-back, easy to groove on rock. Â
But to say we were unprepared for the punk-soul of JC Brooks would be an understatement. Â ”When the mayor of Chicago asks you to play at his inauguration concert…” he writes on his web site. Â We can definitely see the attraction. He dances like a man on a mission to at least pull in a few ladies from the crowd, mentioning several times, “I’ll be out there for the next hour, come see me,” right after calling out a woman in the crowd for wearing a shirt that said “I heart coitus”. The blend of punk and soul was a new one, but he blended them expertly – do go see this Chicago-based band. Â We also couldn’t resist posting a few pics of JC on our Facebook Page.
JJ came out on stage wearing a shirt with a pillsbury dough-boy on it that read “Down Home Boy” and lived up to it. It had been a few years since we’d seen them play and JJ looked distinguished with a close-cropped haircut with sideburns, designer jeans and a pair of really nice boots – a bit different than the trucker cap and flannel shirt we remembered. Â The first thing that I noticed was that for the entire set – he never stopped smiling. Â The reason became obvious as he played and sang – he’s completely in love with his band.Â
And for good reason. Â His new guitar player, Andrew Trube, stunted on lap steel and was equally good on his main axe. Anthony Farrell on Organ pumped out blues like we were in a church, and took a few breaks to let JJ play a few keys. Â Drummer Anthony Cole, who had already played a set with Daryl Hance, was set up in front of a small four-piece kit that looked at home in a middle school band but made it sound huge. Â Juggling a tenor and a mammoth baritone sax, Art Edmaiston belted out some solos, and had found time to time his dance moves with trumpet player Dennis Marion. The horn sound, the organ sound, the huge drums, and stunting lap-steel player were only upstaged by the talents of bassist Todd Smallie, who like JJ, couldn’t stop smiling all night.
They began their single set with JJ hollering “Six Ways” (from Sunday) while he played guitar, and went into “A Woman”. Â We didn’t have to wait long for classic Mofro material, “Brighter Days” had grown up, enhanced by the huge sound of the band, and reminding us why we fell in love with JJ’s voice. Â ”Orange Blossoms” got a lot of love, and my new favorite might be, “Slow, Hot and Sweaty” which JJ couldn’t get through without smirking like a teenager. Â Finishing up with “Sweetest Thing”, it was apparent that we’d get a “Lochloosa” encore – JJ had said earlier when someone shouted the song, “You know there’s no way that we’re gonna come here and NOT play that song!” Â It was an audience sing-along favorite, they blew it out, and then did a second encore, “On Fire”.
By the time they finished, the show had taken us on a ten-year round-trip from the original shows we’d seen in Orlando, and showed JJ’s tremendous growth. Â As I think about the show, I keep going back to one idea: Â JJ got a band, and he loves them.
Setlist, from mofrofans.com:
Higher You Climb
Hide & Seek
Slow Hot n Sweaty
E2: On Fire