Mavis Staples Rocks the Hamilton

Mavis Staples during one of her opening songs. Photo by Nico Dodd
Mavis Staples during one of her opening songs. Photo by Nico Dodd

“We own The Hamilton,” said R&B legend Mavis Staples. “We were the first to stand on this stage.”

Indeed, last January, Mavis Staples and her band opened The Hamilton as the first performers at the then brand-new supper-club. Wednesday night, the audience settled in with dinner and music by Lea, a soulful singer-songwriter from D.C. As an indication of her performance, she had sold out of her CDs by the end of the night.

Staples’ band exuded cool when they made their entrance on stage and would continue to support Staples throughout the night. The Hamilton’s great sound let their musicianship show.

After their first song, an a cappella gospel tune, Staples informed the audience that one of her back up singers was bed ridden, and that she herself was not feeling at her best. She pointed to her throat and referred to it as her “cold voice.” Despite feeling under the weather, Staples powered through the show. Her skills as a performer and entertainer were amazing.

One especially exciting number was Staples performance of The Band’s “The Weight,” this rendition with Staples singing lead. Staples offered her respects to The Band’s Levon Helms, who died earlier this year.

“Levon,” said Staples, “had to leave us, but he is in a better place.”

Another great number was the title track of You Are Not Alone, her Grammy-winning album with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

Before her encore, Staples’ band played two instrumental numbers. One was an excellent rendition of the spiritual “Go Down Moses.” Staples’ performance exhibited a clear Gospel influence. Three-part harmonies and extended interludes were built into every song. Staples often interjected political statements into her songs, and said that people were “mixing up the Kool Aid and passing it off as tea,” referring to the Tea Party.

Near the end of the show, Staples chided her sick band mate “She’s probably feeling better, now that she knows that we are working, and she is not.”

Staples encore, “I’ll Take You There” brought the audience to their feet. Staples gave her regards before she left the stage.

“We’ve been taking you there for 62 years, and we aren’t finished yet.”

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Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:29:56 -0400

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