Went and saw Mavis last night.
Have a good Sunday everybody.
She is remarkable.
And guess what.
Live: Hope At The Hideout: Liner Notes
This article was written by Scott Smith for the Time Out Chicago website (www.timeout.com/chicago), and was posted on June 24th, 2008.
Live review: Mavis Staples at the Hideout
There are few living musicians who can lay claim to being America’s conscience, even fewer who continue to make vital music. On Monday night at The Hideout, Mavis Staples proved she’s still capable of both. But far more than merely being capable, the 69-year-old Staples showed she can light a fire, agitate for change and re-energize the American songbook.
Though she never referenced it directly, it was impossible – even in an anachronistic setting like The Hideout – to experience Staples’s performance outside of the context of an election season in a country at war. Opening with “For What It’s Worth,” a song whose power – at least in Buffalo Springfield’s all-too-familiar version – has long since ebbed thanks to its ubiquity, Staples tapped into the song’s theme of absolute corrupted power, giving new resonance to lines like “Paranoia strikes deep…it starts when you’re always afraid.” Later in the night, she would sing of waiting for a letter from a long-away son or daughter (“Waiting For My Child”) or of letting her light shine in the streets or on the battlefield (“This Little Light of Mine”).
Staples commanded the stage with a dual mission: To record a live album (the bulk of her performance that night pulled from last year’s We’ll Never Turn Back, a collection of songs from the black civil rights movement) and, in her words, “to bring joy, happiness, inspiration and positive vibrations…to last for at least the next six months.” Just enough to get us to Election Day.
Befitting the intimate space, Staples performed with only a three-piece band, and a trio of backup singers. The warm acoustics of the Hideout were the perfect setting for their Southern-fried soul and Staples’s voice moved with ease from the high notes of church-choir praise to a throaty growl of defiance. The deep, swampy bottom of the rhythm section perfectly complimented guitarist Rick Holmstrom’s no-wasted-notes style.
Though Staples has performed some of these songs countless times over 40-plus years – she introduced “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” as the first song her father “Pops” taught her to sing – she injected her set with a stunning immediacy, as these are both traditional songs, and stories of her life. Whether it’s the autobiographical lyrical touches she adds to J.B. Lenoir’s “Down In Mississippi” or the lunch counter standoff of “We Shall Not Be Moved,” the politics of Mavis Staples are very personal indeed.
As for the happiness and inspiration she promised at the outset, Staples and her band delivered. A Monday night crowd of once-in-a-while concertgoers is a rough audience, and most of the assembled kept a hushed reverence as she sang, limiting their joyful noises to moments between songs. But by the end – with warm encouragement from her backup singers – she helped them find their voice in call-and-response and revival rhythms, bringing the night to a close with the hopeful promises of “On My Way” and “I’ll Take You There.”
Anger burns hot. So much so that if not properly directed, it burns up quickly, preventing movement, resulting in sadness or frustrated impotence. Hope, on the other hand, promises joy on the other side of the river, just over the mountain, a few more miles away. It is this country’s primary renewable resource and, as such, Staples’s show demonstrated why it is the only way to conquer fear and inspire change.
Scott Smith, Time Out Chicago
And a devout Christian. Something most progressive’s I know have a big problem with.
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