Last night (Nov. 19) I was lucky enough to attend a special concert in Chicago celebrating the 75th birthday of Mavis Staples. Man, that was an experience—one that was unique to Chicago and showcased a huge range of American music from the past 50 or 60 years.
The show was being taped for a DVD release, so it had issues with flow and continuity—too many stops and starts to feel like a ‘real’ concert experience, which got a little frustrating after a while. It ran one ‘episode’ at a time, with a special guest (or two or four) taking the stage, usually backed by a crack 13-piece band that included stunning vocalists the McCrary Sisters and bassist/musical director Don Was.
But ultimately it was a spectacular experience.
Each ‘episode’ features special guests such as Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, Eric Church, Taj Mahal, Jeff Tweedy and two members of Arcade Fire. They ran through an incredible array of gospel, soul, blues, rock and folk material that Mavis or her family band the Staple Singers had covered or otherwise been associated with over the years.
Not every rendition was a stunner, but there were too many highlights to single out. Except, perhaps, the cool version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” (which Mavis said was the first song Pops Staples ever taught her and her siblings, when they were first starting out in the late 1940s) and, of course, the grand finale, an all-star version of “The Weight,” with every one of the night’s guests joining Mavis on stage.
I wrote more about the show over at Radio.com. But in the meantime, check out a snippet of “The Weight” below.
And I still strongly recommend taking time to hear Mavis’ most recent album with producer Jeff Tweedy, the low-key but powerful One True Vine.