It felt a bit surreal walking into a concert venue on Friday night given the context of what was happening in Paris at that very moment. Concerts, after all, are a place to escape the sometimes painful realities of life and revel in this magical thing we call music. The crowd at Stubb’s in Austin seemed acutely aware of the need to gather at a concert as almost a show of support of the victims in Paris whose lives had just been senselessly taken while enjoying the experience of live music. But music and love always prevails, and on this night it was JJ Grey & Mofro’s job to remind us of just that.
Before JJ Grey came along to take us all to the church of soul and funk, the charming Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers lifted the mood with a set of their California country rock. Sticking mostly to songs off their recently released album Loved Wild Lost, Bluhm’s Sheryl Crow-but-with-far-more-soul vocals were backed by the band’s mellow twang and steady groove on songs like “Waiting On Love”, “Queen of the Rodeo”, and the harmonic “Simpler Times”. The set reached its peak when Bluhm showed off her vocal chops and did her own take on Janis Joplin with a cover of “Piece of My Heart” that brought everything to a pleasing close with an impressive scream.
JJ Grey’s music has always had a redemptive, heartening quality, and on Friday it felt more significant than any other night. For over two hours Grey and his band – which features the local duo of keyboardist Anthony Farrell and guitarist Andrew Trube – dished out heaping portions of swampy soul music that washed over the audience. The band opened with the appropriate “Everything Good Is Bad”, a brassy number that set a laid back vibe that would stay throughout the show. Songs off the group’s latest album Ol’ Glory (REVIEW) made appearances in the set, but JJ Grey also knows what his fans want to hear and was happy to indulge them with selections from all of his albums. “Brighter Days”, “Lochloosa”, “Country Ghetto” and “99 Shades of Crazy” had the audience blissfully dancing and singing along while Grey and his band kept things moving along at a lively pace. Grey was every bit the showman as he belted out lyrics with his suave Southern drawl. Being the gentleman that he is, Grey also let his band shine, giving his lyrics a soundtrack of deep funk and smoldering, soulful licks.
In the wake of the tragic Paris attacks, JJ Grey took on the role of preacher on Friday night with the audience as his congregation. His music felt even closer to gospel as it lifted spirits and imparted a feeling of hope in the sheer power of music. As concerts always have and always will, JJ Grey & Mofro gave the audience a brief escape and allowed them to forget the realities of the world in favor of basking in the glow of live music.