Taj Mahal and his trio hit the stage promptly on Thursday night, and the 69-year-old bluesman proceeded to rock out with no delay. Mahal appeared fit and feisty in a pink shirt and white hat as he joked with the crowd and shook loose some reverb-assisted guitar solos on both familiar material from his early career and songs from his new album, Maestro, which features guest spots from such stars as Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, and Angelique Kidjo. It’s easy to remember that Mahal hangs with the great bluesmen, thanks to his uncanny vocal impressions of figures like Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Muddy Waters, but the opening of Thursday’s show reminded his fans that Mahal also belongs in the company of some great guitar players, including former bandmate Ry Cooder, rock inspiration Chuck Berry, and even fellow master of the right chord at the right time, Keith Richards.
Moving to the keyboards, Mahal unleashed “Blues with a Feeling” as bassist Billy Rich and drummer Kester Smith pumped out a sinuous groove. But, like a classic 1960s American convertible, this rhythm section was built for speed, and it wasn’t long before Mahal was back on his feet, jamming on the “Fishing Blues” and “Corinna,” and even bringing out the banjo for a while before winding the whole night up with an acoustic guitar flourish.