Mose Allison
Charleston Music Hall
Jan. 27

Without knowing him personally, it’s impossible to tell if Mose Allison’s “living in the present” nature is simply his way of being or a product of his age. Clearly, stage presence and formalities are not a priority. But by not caring at all, he charmed the audience at the Music Hall into two standing ovations, after playing nearly two hours (and two sets) of his classic piano blues and jazz.

After an introduction from the American College of Building Arts, who hosted the concert, Allison shuffled onto stage in a dumpy looking purple fleece jacket, stopping halfway through his opening instrumental song to remove it while accompanying bassist Ron Brendle took a solo. He spent nearly a minute searching through the pockets for something, the fresh audience on their toes in anticipation.

With his reading glasses found, the singer put them on and launched right into his fitting first line, “Am I trying to serve the human race/Or am I just along for the ride?” from “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.”

Throughout the show, during turnarounds and piano breaks, Allison sang his notes under his breath as he played. Those guttural sounds and his instructions between songs to Brendle were all amusingly audible to the respectful, attentive audience. Brendle used a music stand, and the lack of a setlist kept him on his toes. “Number 11, come in on the F,” Allison would instruct him, or “35, about halfway down.” On more than a few occasions, without the aid of a drummer, piano and bass fell out of sync for a moment, but Brendle always jumped quickly back into whatever pace Allison settled on.

Most songs ended with a crescendo, Allison banging his way up the piano and holding a long high note with his voice. Even at 84, his vocal tone was crisp and the lyrics easily distinguishable, garnering more laughs during the performance than many stand-up comics can muster. Whether intentionally funny (“I’m a certified senior citizen/Excuse me while I take a nap”), or poignant (“Everybody’s crying for peace on Earth/Just as soon as we win this war”), Allison’s words were received with enthusiastic approval and applause throughout the show.

Although he never played his biggest hit, “Young Man’s Blues,” nobody seemed to mind. Allison endeared himself to the audience, sending them us with the unintentional hope that we’ll all retain such charm and talent well into our ninth decade of life. —Stratton Lawrence