I have failed.
It's now been several months since I saw Mavis Staples perform at Jazz Alley, and I still cannot find the right words to describe the experience. All the superlatives I can throw -- and buddy, you better believe I got me a big ol' truckload of superlatives -- are just not enough. This tongue-tied situational inadequacy is something I am apparently going to have to just accept, for after seeing Mavis and her band perform again last night at Seattle's Town Hall as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival, I may be even more awestruck than I was last March. I guess you are just going to have to trust me. When you are able to see a performer that can effortlessly evoke the highest highs and the lowest lows of emotion, and is able to connect so beautifully and warmly with her audience, you leave the venue a better person. I really believe this.
I owe American Standard Time my gratitude for the tickets (and to my dear friends Deb and Wilton for volunteering to take the kids trick-or-treating so I could attend the show). The Town Hall is a cool venue, and I was able to grab a primo pew seat (yes, it was a church a long time ago).
"An Evening With Mavis Staples" is a master class in popular music, really. At times quiet and bluesy, hollerin' gospel revival, sweet and low-down soul, and just crazay pounding rock n' roll, you can hear it all in the space of a few minutes, and it's breathtaking. Something that makes her show so very outstanding is the quality of her fellow performers -- the best of the best back Mavis. Donny Gerrard's vocals match Mavis' in skill -- and that's saying something. Rick Holmstrom must be one of those cats who lives and breathes the electric guitar because he was pushing sounds out of there that do not exist in nature! GO CAT GO! Everyone was just spot-ON all night. The energy, enthusiasm, and smiles were going back and forth between band and audience, building wonderfully throughout like all concerts should be and so few are. There are great shows -- I've been to many -- but this one was perfect.
(A few more photos are here.)
Well, enough of my talk. Here's the important stuff. Of all the moments of the show that were just amazing, I cannot even believe the luck in catching this one on video. This is "Losing You," from Mavis' new album, "You Are Not Alone," produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. It was the only time in the night when my ear caught a distinct change for just a line or so in the song, where Mavis' voice sounded more traditionally jazzy. I realized it came not from intent but from Mavis trying to hold herself back from crying. When the song ended and I clicked the camera off, I had to wipe away my own tears. At the end of the song, you can see her singers, including sister Yvonne, applauding in the shadows at the back of the stage.
But please do not let me give you the impression that the show was a downer! In fact, it was the exact opposite: joyful, life-affirming, and FUN! Oh, Mavis, I just love you to pieces and so did every single person there in the packed Town Hall. Here's "I'll Take You There," the massive crossover soul hit for the Staple Singers, back when I was just a radio-obsessed little kid and Pops Staples was the coolest dad ever.
OK. Help me feel like less of a hapless scribe. Go see Mavis and her band for yourself wherever and whenever you can, and be sure to buy "You Are Not Alone," and then I will know I've done my job here. NOW SHOO!