Reading Bill Brownlee’s review of Taj Mahal’s recent concert at Knuckleheads (Kansas City) reminded me of a time when Mahal graciously soothed a too active, enthusiastic audience. It was inTucson, mid 80s, in what might have been an impromptu setting—a huge empty room in a high-rise office building—and with minimal set-up. Up front, a piano and bench, two guitars and guitar stands, and one standing microphone. About a hundred folding chairs were arranged in two sections with a center aisle between. The sound man and his equipment were a few feet behind the last row of chairs.
The announcer requested people to stay seated so they wouldn’t block others’ view, and, if they wished to dance, to do so only in the back of the room. Soft lighting there was actually very inviting.
Mahal came to the microphone, one of the guitars in hand, chatted humorously and amicably in that rough, wonderful voice, and then performed one of his standard blues tunes. Immediately after, a couple left, commenting to people nearby about Mahal’s sexist lyrics. Why they had bothered attending a Taj Mahal concert was a mystery to the rest of us. Leaving as they did was the first, and probably the worst, poor behavior.
Mahal continued with vocal and guitar blues. A few young girls moved out to the side of the chairs and danced discreetly. The music drew them closer, in front, toward the center. Other dancers, singles and couples, took the side floors but drifted nearer, too. Now the audience could only hear Mahal, not see him.
Suddenly, there was no music at all. In a few seconds came the sound of piano keys, but not a melody, at least not a danceable one. The dancing slowed and stopped. The people close to the front returned to their seats or filed to the rear of the room. Mahal continued playing softly until the room was otherwise quiet. Then he got up, took his guitar, and began singing again.
This time he had a courteous audience. A few people danced, but in the rear of the room.
Mahal never mentioned what had occurred. He just sang, and joked. He was (and is) a wonderful entertainer, a real joy to listen to and to see.