Mavis Staples – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 9, 2014
“This is gonna be a good one tonight!” announced Mavis Staples, after the enthusiastic Music Hall of Williamsburg crowd greeted her soulful rendition of “I Like the Things About Me” with rousing cheers on Friday night. The legendary gospel and soul singer and civil-rights activist began singing as a child in her family’s band, the Staple Singers, may be nearly 75 year old, but she still continues to create and perform music that resonates with fans across generations.
Onstage, Staples was indeed a force—her powerful voice rich with emotion on songs like “One True Vine,” from her 2013 Jeff Tweedy–produced album of the same name— punctuating certain lines with a nice, deep growl. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member also revisited hits spanning her fruitful career, giving a spirited and perfectly funky rendition of the ’70s Staple Singers hit “Let’s Do It Again,” and bringing out the night’s opener, Amy Helm (daughter of the Band’s Levon Helm), for a version of “The Weight,” which the Staple Singers performed with the Band for The Last Waltz. Staples and her band also treated the crowd to a version of the ’60s civil-rights anthem “Freedom Highway,” a song inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1963 March on Washington.
Staples was rarely without a grin as she performed, enjoying the energy from the crowd and her band, playfully punching the guitarist’s arm and fist-bumping the drummer after impressive solos. And following a performance featuring decades of great music, Staples and Co. had one last song to revisit: “We’re gonna take ya’ll back down memory lane.” But then after scrutinizing the first few rows of the crowd, she jokingly added, “Ya’ll weren’t even born,” as the band launched into the undeniable hit “I’ll Take You There.” Despite what age or year audience members may have been introduced to Mavis Staples’ music, all in attendance would agree the singer is a true legend, sending the band off with joyful applause that the ever-humble Staples replied to with an smile and an appreciative “Shucks.” —Alena Kastin