Mofro, the creation of Florida swamp-soul singer JJ Grey and guitarist Daryl Hance, played an exhilarating, nearly two-hour set of what they like to call "front porch soul" at Southpaw in Brooklyn on Saturday night. The slow and midtempo speeds of most of the songs give Grey ample space to pull the audience in, much like Beck does at his concerts, or Jim Morrison did. Indeed, although Grey's powerful voice by turns evokes Marvin Gaye and Marty Balin, and though the rich, chugging music owes far more to New Orleans, Memphis, and The Band than to L.A., a Mofro show is something like a second coming of the Doors.
Like shamans, the charismatic Grey and his sinuous band build their modestly structured, unprepossessing songs into small volcanoes of emotion, with the audience supplying half the energy. It's enough to begin to restore one's faith in the vitality of live rock. With organist Adam Scone covering the bass parts (another Doors-like trait), Hance laying down simple but deep guitar parts, and drummer George Sluppick creating a wide, drawling pocket, Grey moves between guitar, electric piano and harmonica, playing simple lines and solos – nothing fancy, but like his singing, bluesy and elemental.
A Bo-Diddley-beat rave-up with a guest sax player, and a few other quick mini-jams, helped to get the blood flowing, but the slower songs carried the most weight, whether celebratory or sad. Highlights included "Fireflies" and a gospel-intense cover of "Do Right Woman," as well as Mofro's signature ballad "Lochloosa." The music contains a fair amount of lamentation for a rapidly disappearing world of easygoing Southern Americana, northern Florida style. But if a jaded New York City audience can respond so brightly to Mofro, then at least we know the human spirit – as exemplified by music, naturally – can't be developed out of existence as easily as can the land.