Photos by Derek Meade
Seeing Mavis Staples at Alice Tully Hall initially felt a little like being in the Soul Museum. The hallowed Hall is so crisp and clean in appearance and sound, it felt at odds with that earthiest of voices. But in the short span of a 90-minute set, Staples’ still smoldering incandescence peeled some polish from the palace walls and generated its own homespun intimacy, transporting the polite and well-dressed crowd to a joyous place deep inside itself.
Along the way, the congregation and the Hall were sanctified as Staples glided through covers both familiar (“For What It’s Worth,” “The Weight”) and revelatory (Talking Heads’ “Slippery People,” and Funkadelic’s, “Can You Get to That?”) and, of course, Staples’ staples (“Respect Yourself,” “Let’s Do It Again”). But the confessional, between-song reveries about Pops, the sisters and, most importantly, herself, setting up songs such as “Holy Ghost” and “I Like the Things About Me,” were the Gospel According to Mavis that made it an emotional family affair.
And so a night that began cautiously with the enticement of “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me),” ended with a boisterous crowd dancing in beautifully carpeted aisles to a climactic “I’ll Take You There.” A promise fulfilled.
– Derek Meade