Big-legged mamas are back in style again!
Taj Mahal said so at Friday night in Kingsbury Hall. Rather, he sang so. (Talking and singing are synonymous for Taj.) And I believe him. So did the other 796 Taj-fans who followed him religiously through an 18-set bluesfest - believing and feeling every word.Strolling onstage bedecked in multicolored pantaloons tucked into black boots, black- and yellow-spotted poncho, red turtleneck, white-tasseled cowboy hat, accented with silver rings and bracelets, round shades and golden earring, Taj was as visually eclectic as his musical repertoire.
It took him about two seconds to win the audience with a pounding piano piece about "Short Fat Fanny." The irrepressibly personable Taj was at his best from the start, switching from solo piano to acoustic guitar, all the while urging the crowd to sing along and "put your backbone into it!"
A varied mix of mostly white, over-35 fans mingled with the Birkenstock-sandaled and the bearded, babies and businessmen together . . . each pretending to have the GIFT - the ability to soulfully feel and share the blues. This GIFT has molded Taj Mahal's 30-year career into a cherished national treasure.
In the sing-alongs, I was among those who magically imagined themselves possessing a touch of Taj's raw, bone-deep soul. With an audience of would-be Arethas and would-be Taj Mahals, the place was rocking . . . heads bopping, feet stomping, bodies pulsating to the beat.
A favorite was a three-part sing-along, with the women moaning "ba-bee," the men groaning "ma-ma" and Taj belting out the refrain.Whether sliding into the nostalgic "Cakewalk" or bemoaning the "Bourgeoisie in Washington, D.C.," Taj took charge - personalizing the old standards by twisting frequently heard forms and sounds, using facial gestures and vocal inflections.
A fine example of his performance art was "Stagger Lee," in which his guitar was transformed from an instrument into a gun, with loud reverberations, that sent Taj staggering backwards, as if he had been hit by a bullet. During another piece, "Fishin'," he cast his line out into the crowd and his guitar became a fishing pole. He was entertaining and believable in whatever he presented to the appreciative audience.
His involvement in the music and the moment was apparent. He wanted to share this love of "roots" music. He frequently turned to the audience, smiling and goading, "How you feelin . . ? Tell me!"
He noted, "We'll talk back and forth through the music."
This two-way communication was strong throughout the concert. Most interesting were the moments when in mid-song Taj would become silent, mouthing the lyrics while the guitar spoke for him - a ventriloquist with his "dummy," the guitar.
In the main set's final song, Taj stood and led his followers in an a capella sing-along. Returning to a boisterous standing ovation, he ended on a wistful note with his signature, "Take a Giant Step," a mellow voice gently urging idealism.