It’s not every day that you see Jonny Mojo dancing amidst an audience. In fact, it’s a sight most people have never witnessed. That’s because he’s always onstage, pushing the limits of his guitar and imagination. Before the ginger jam giant had his opportunity to be an observer for a change, the Jonny Mojo Band kicked things off with an early set which laid the foundation for a musical marathon of epic proportions. Accompanied by Mark McCartney on drums (Achilles Wheel), Dan “Mad Monk” Abbott on bass (The Rusty Buckets) and Jordan Feinstein on keys (Stu Allen and Mars Hotel), JMB threw down an opening set that was so fiery, most bands would quiver at the thought of following it. As if it wasn’t already hot enough, the climax featured a sit in from Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz (ALO) on guitar. The chemistry between the two conjured instantaneous magic with a wellspring of shimmering licks bubbling back and forth on an extended “After Midnight” and the Mojo original “Down in the Mine.”
Lebo’s night was just getting started as he would soon join Bone Diggers for what was only their third live performance. The brainchild of visionary bassist and composer, Reed Mathis (Electric Beethoven), this project was all about honoring the music of Paul Simon, while reinterpreting it through the kaleidoscope of group improvisation. Joined by keyboardists Danny Eisenberg (The Mother Hips), guitarist Clay Welch (Electric Beethoven) and drummer Scott Rager (formerly of Tea Leaf Green), this proved to be the ultimate collection of emotionally-attuned players to evoke the essence of these timeless songs. Thanks to them, we would walk away with an exponentially enhanced appreciation of an artist we already hold in the highest regard.
It was fitting that they opened with the first song from Simon’s debut solo album, “Mother and Child Reunion.” Lebo’s tender vocals and velveteen guitar tone made it immediately clear that we were about to surrender ourselves into a transcendental state of musical ecstasy. There was a palpable sense of camaraderie amongst the sold out crowd as we were soon singing and dancing together to the irresistible lyrics and groove of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Those who know Mathis, know he is a bassist always on the forefront of innovation. In the multiple projects he is involved with, the common denominator is a commitment to stretching the boundaries of convention. This show catapulted his status as an intrepid band leader and a formidable vocalist into a another realm.
His command of this material stems from his deepest core. This was evident in his ability to channel impeccable cadence and inflection on songs that aren’t very easy to sing. Leave it to Mathis to make a deep cut like “The Coast” the centerpiece of the show. This underappreciated gem off Rhythm of the Saints encapsulated every element of this band’s tremendous potential. Segueing lusciously out of “Late in the Evening,” they navigated the complex melodic structure with admirable aplomb. The quintet respected the exoskeleton of the song and its soul-stirring lyrics while tapping into an unforeseen garden of breathtaking delights. Evolving organically through its sections, they eventually turned a mysterious corner, giving way to a heavenly realm of major-key jam bliss. Eisenberg was a catalyst here, as he was all night, always assertive and tasteful with his swirling organ effects. It all culminated with Lebo’s guitar unlocking the gateway into that sacred place we perpetually strive for.
The highlights were too many and too frequent to comment on thoroughly. “The Obvious Child” and “Gumboots” were two other first set standouts. “Slip Sliding Away” and “You Can Call Me Al” kept the audience enthralled as the night drew near its end. Reminding us that the latter is the source of the band’s moniker, Mathis used his Jedi abilities to transmit the profound nature of the song beyond what Simon likely intended. His inclination to stay busy on his bass lends well to this material which drinks up the polyrhythms with a bottomless thirst. Watching and listening to Rager drum was a joy as he emitted a Zen-like presence, embodying the release of ego innate to this music. Exuding patience, Welch showed his understanding of the big picture with meaty electric counterpoints to Lebo’s cerebral flights. When they wrapped it all up with a devastating, gospel burn through “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” there seemed to be a group consensus that we had just witnessed one of the more meaningful shows in Crazy Horse history. We can only imagine what will happen when this band gets a few more gigs under its belt.