Charismatic Mavis Staples brings energetic soul — and comedy — to the stage
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This article was published 18/06/2015 (2905 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Everyone knows Mavis Staples is a gospel and soul icon. Everyone knows she has an incredible voice and that her music is powerful, both in sheer volume and in content. Everyone knows the lyrics to her song I’ll Take You There. But not everyone may know Mavis Staples is also practically a stand-up comedian.
“Well good evenin’ y’all!” 75-year-old Staples said with a chuckle, her signature rasp echoing through the almost sold-out theatre. “What’s the short name for this city? Peggy? Oh, Peg city! Ain’t nobody here has a peg leg, do ya?”
And that was just the beginning of what turned out to be a hilarious, upbeat set that somehow became less about the music and more about the experience of soaking in everything that is Mavis Staples.
“We’ve come all the way from Chicago to bring you some joy, some happiness, inspiration and some positive vibrations. We wanna leave you feelin’ real good… though I don’t know for how long,” Staples joked, as she commanded the stage with the kind of effortless charisma that only comes after spending decades performing.
And she didn’t wait long to get the good feelings going as she hopped right into one of her most famous songs, Respect Yourself. Staples’ rasp was in full form here, her already weathered voice having grown gruffer with age.
She took a seat for You Are Not Alone, a song written by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco for her album of the same name (Tweedy also produced that record — which won a Grammy — and co-wrote several other songs). It was the first time Staples took a minute to slow down since she set foot on stage. She took a seat and lovingly crooned to the crowd, allowing a more subdued version of her typically high-energy voice to shine.
That relaxed vibe didn’t last long, though, as Staples jumped off her chair and had her hands and feet moving to the beat before blasting into Freedom Highway, a powerful Staples Singers hit that was an anthem of Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement.
Staples is a tiny ball of energy whens she’s on stage, dancing and clapping and having a laugh, but halfway through the set, she was spent, and took a short break, allowing her band take centre stage for a few minutes.
The calibre of Staples’ five-piece backing band is almost ridiculous — the talent just oozed from their pores. They filled the gap with an absolutely electric interlude that played with dynamics and rhythm and showed off just how awesome it is when a group of incredible musicians get together and just jam. They kept the energy high until Staples was ready to return.
Then, it happened. Staples sang I’ll Take You There and it was pretty much the best thing that has ever happened. To hear such a classic song sung by the person who actually sang it originally is an experience to revel in. People stood up and danced in their seats, they hooted and hollered and sang along when Mavis instructed (ordered) them to do so. And, when it was all over, they leapt to their feet for a booming standing ovation.
It’s not hard to understand why Staples was one of the most influential artists of the American civil rights movement — she exudes a confidence and has such conviction in what she’s saying that it’s impossible not be inspired.
Sure, at times her voice cracked. And sure, she had to hold back here and there so as to not push herself too far, but Staples has swagger and her enthusiasm is contagious. If you didn’t love Mavis when you got there, she made sure you loved her by the time you left.
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Updated on Monday, June 22, 2015 10:48 AM CDT: Corrects typos