Three generations of Los Angeles blues — tempered by soul, country and jazz — took the stage at the Hollywood Bowl, providing the perfect accompaniment to a perfect Southern California evening, as the joyous sounds of Etta James, Keb’ Mo’ and Ernie Andrews mingled with the cool breeze floating through the amphitheater.
James, who is moving with greater confidence as her knee heals, delivered a set structured with large venues in mind — perfect for summer festivals and sheds. Broader, bawdier and sassier than her recent turn at the House of Blues, James and her Roots Band had a rollicking good time mugging and grinding their way through “Tell Mama,” “Come to Mama” and Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby.” But her gruff, soulful voice was best served when she had a chance to growl her way through ballads such as “At Last” and the passionate “Damn Your Eyes.”
Accompanied by guitar, dobro and occasionally banjo, Keb’ Mo’ plays a rustic take on the blues, touching on the Delta sounds of John Lee Hooker, Son House and Robert Johnson. But Mo’ makes no claim to authenticity, opening his set admitting he’s a city boy looking for some country calm. He smartly updates the style, using the classic blues form to comment on voice mail (“dial 1, dial 2, dial pound, dial 3/why won’t anyone talk to me”) and spending summers in Compton. Even “Just Like You,” a treacly tolerance ballad, avoids sentimentality when done in his gritty, honest style.
Ernie Andrews opened the show with a suave evocation of Central Avenue in its 1950s heyday. Backed by a jazz quartet, he crooned his way through a sophisticated set of bluesy ballads, including a cover of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.”