Mavis Staples is amazing. I had not had the pleasure of seeing her play live before, but fortuitously she is out on tour right now with Bob Dylan as his opening act. Her show, which clocked in at something under 40 minutes, was one the those rare opening sets that you wish were longer. Mavis drew most of her excellent set from The Staple Singers catalog, with two notable cover songs (see setlist below). She had the rapport and dynamics of a revival preacher on a Sunday morning. The band was terrific, especially the guitarist.
Midway through her set she did "Freedom Highway", a song that she said was written by her father (the late) Pops Staples in 1962 for the Civil Right March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Mavis went on, "I was there, I am a living witness." And with that she sang Buffalo Springfield's durable protest anthem, "For What It's Worth". Her version was awesome and considering recent events involving policing, protest, and the racial divide in this country, the lyrics took on all kinds of new meaning. Then she launched into her set closer, The Staple Singers' classic "I'll Take You There", complete with call and response audience participation on the chorus.
In addition to being a phenomenal singer and performer, Mavis Staples is a bit of living history. This is an excerpt from her bio, "Staples is a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee, and has appeared with the likes of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Presidents Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton, Obama, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, and Tom Petty. She's recorded with Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Marty Stuart, Los Lobos, and many more."
As good as her last couple of albums are, they don't begin to do justice to the dynamo of talent and energy that is Mavis Staples. I was just about to type that she needs to make a live album, preferably at one of the blues clubs in her hometown of Chicago, when my research team pointed out that she has done exactly that back in 2008. I have just listened to Mavis Staples Live: Hope at the Hideout, and it offers Mavis in all her live glory, performing at the Hideout in Chicago; perfect. This record offers nearly everything she did at The Mann, and much more. I give this live album my unqualified recommendation. Read this review by Hal Horowitz.
Chicago is Mavis Staples' hometown so she is in exceptionally fine spirits on this 2008 live set, her first solo concert recording, at the Windy City's Hideout venue. Backed by a stripped down yet phenomenal three piece band of veterans featuring guitarist Rick Holmstrom, drummer Stephen Hodges and bassist Jeff Turmes along with a trio of backing vocalists, Staples comes to "bring joy, happiness, inspiration and some positive vibrations." Mission accomplished on this hour long set that borrows liberally from her 2007 civil rights oriented album We’ll Never Turn Back, but ups the energy and commitment for the live show. Her group burrows into a deep, dark swamp groove led by Holmstrom's shimmering guitar perfect for Staples' husky, gospel voice to pour into. On "This Little Light" she vocally riffs off the repeated lick, bringing intensity to the song only hinted at in its studio version. She digs back into her catalog to revive the traditional "Wade in the Water," here given a slight funk backbeat and brought to shore by Staples' gutsy, churchy reading. She's practically forced into a closing encore of the Staples Singers' signature tune "I'll Take You There," a sing-along for the audience played against skeletal guitar and enough joyous handclaps to raise the club, and now the listener, a little closer to heaven.Here is the setlist (courtesy of setlist.fm) from the Mann Center for Performing Arts:
If You're Ready (Come Go With Me), The Staple Singers song
Take Us Back
Slippery People, Talking Heads cover
Touch a Hand (Make a Friend)
You Are Not Alone
Freedom Highway, The Staple Singers song
For What It's Worth, Buffalo Springfield cover
I'll Take You There, The Staple Singers song
Photos courtesy of Mavis Staples
Mavis Staples Live: Hope at the Hideout
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