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Review Tue Apr 22 2014
The beautifully adorned Symphony Center found a packed house on Friday evening for a double bill of two great artists, Southern-folk violinist Regina Carter, and soul legend, Mavis Staples. The intimate venue and superb acoustics made it clear that this was an evening of music that would be unforgettable and irreplaceable.
Regina Carter emerged first, flanked by an accompaniment of accordion, guitar, an upright bass, and drums. She donned a bright outfit, and walked onstage completely barefoot. Regina Carter's set was focused on heritage through and through, in a beautiful way. After her first song, which contained a slightly fuzzy but extremely authentic recording from an old Southern tune, Carter delved into the methods she utilized to track her family ancestry. From anecdotes regarding her grandfather's time as a coal miner in Alabama, to divulging stories of growing up with several siblings, to sharing snapshots of old Southern folk tunes preserved in their original recorded setting, Carter was able to not only present us with examples of her expertly perfected musical craft, however, she was also able to further impact us with the connection to her rich heritage.
My favorite tunes she played included "Shoo-Rye" a song that interpreted a children's game that she played way back when, but also converted into deeper meaning regarding taking chances and the effects of risk. "See See Rider" was another outstanding tune, which explored the darker side of blues music and near the end morphed into a blues-jazz hybrid as the sound grew more frenetic and eccentric with heavy jazz backing from the bass and drums. Many of the songs came from her most recent album, Southern Comfort.
"We're all from the South of somewhere," Carter stated, positively beaming onstage as she got to share her personal history with the crowd. Her encore brought us to hear a Baptist hymn, "I'm Going Home on the Morning Train," which was both exquisitely beautiful, yet also possessed a twinge of sadness. Carter was able to truly showcase her art form by presenting us with a well-rounded set of intricate, quick-paced numbers while also showcasing more emotional ballads. The personal connection to her heritage really formed the set as cohesive and unique, as she shared so much with us that truly enhanced the music that followed.
When Mavis Staples emerged, the mood onstage swiftly changed, but not in a bad way whatsoever. While Regina Carter's set retained an atmosphere of watchful reverence, Mavis Staples made it clear that she wanted her set to be full of positive vibes, an outspoken discussion between many songs, and a more lively atmosphere. The stage lighting immediately changed to become more zany and bold. Staples emerged positively glowing, ambling across the stage with a walking cane, assisted by a gentleman to her perch in the center of the stage. Staples, also joined by a full band, began with "For What It's Worth," originally performed by Buffalo Springfield. The song immediately transformed into a soul-filled landscape, immediately converting it from its original form.
Staples immediately told us all that she wanted this set to be filled with happiness, joy, inspiration, and positive vibrations. At 74 years old, she is truly rocking and full of just as much energy and positivity as she was during her days spent with legendary family outfit, The Staple Singers. It is clear that she extracts joy from all of her experiences, rather than searching for joy itself - she finds it everywhere and truly wants to share that with her audience. Indeed, her set brought about all of the qualities she was hoping for, and more.
"Can You Get To That," followed by "I Like The Things About Me," brought us the newer material from Staples, off album One True Vine, produced by another Chicago legend, Jeff Tweedy. Laden with wisdom, her songs transmit personal messages, including feeling comfortable in your own skin, and enjoying the unique gifts you possess. She continued the show with a smooth version of "Do It Again," originally by the Staple Singers. It was clear that Staples was having the absolute best time onstage, and truly loving every moment. The song, so many years later after its original production, sounded just as crystal clear and funky as the first version.
"You Are Not Alone" was next, off of her 2010 album titled with the same name. Arguably her most popular song, the ballad was beautiful in the Symphony Center's gilded setting. The emotions conveyed within the ballad presents another message of truth that easily resonated with the audience. The next songs included a rocking cover of "The Weight" by The Band, a song perfect for her musical palate.
As the set moved forward, Mavis Staples became more and more talkative with the audience. She was completely at ease and comfortable in front of a large crowd, so much so that it seemed as if she had known us for a long time and we were all simply reuniting. She told us of her double knee replacement surgery that had recently occurred, and that Satan had been the culprit behind the pain. She told Satan, "Get back, I'm going to the Symphony Center!" as she chuckled and the crowd indulged in her hilarity.
Ending the show prior to her encore with "I'll Take You There," she reveled in the fact that the Staple Singers had been making music together for 64 years, a daring feat. Ending with "We Shall Not Be Moved," the set reigned as inspiring and glorious, proving Staples as a true legend. It's exciting to see where she will take her music next, as it has only matured and grown over the past several decades. Carter and Staples were able to truly show us their unique craft on Friday evening, including an emphasis on heritage, and an emphasis on heart, when it comes to creating beautiful music.