Mavis Staples at the Park West: A Review

Mavis Staples at the Park West: A Review

     Very few concerts have the ability to render you utterly speechless
with many different kinds of emotions, but yesterday I experienced just that.
Mavis Staples has been, well, a staple of Gospel music for, as she exclaimed
proudly yesterday, 60 years! Starting out with her family group, The Staples
Singers, Mavis has since climbed the ropes of popularity. Now, at 71-years-old,
I feel that she has reached her top peak of popularity. With the release of her
new album You Are Not Alone, she has been making the rounds of talk shows, such
as The Letterman Show and The Colbert Report as well as the Rally to Restore Fear and/or Sanity in
Washington D.C. This new album was also produced by Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco fame. Several fans at last night's
concert at the Park West in Chicago were very saddened by the fact that Tweedy
didn't show up, but Mavis did give him a glittering mention, which she often
did between songs. My dad and I got to the venue an hour early, just so we
could get the best seats possible. It turned out the best seats possible were
not actually seats at all, but standing in the front of the stage was the best
view! I really felt a connection to her and I stood inches away from a legend
of Gospel music. At 71, she has the bubbly exuberance of a woman 50 years
younger. At one point someone in the crowd yelled out "we love you Mavis!" to
which she replied "well, I'm still single!" The whole concert was a wonderful
affair of love and passion for music.


     After the warm-up act, the
effervescent and pleasant-voiced Kelly Hogan, Mavis strode onstage with her
3-piece back-up band, 2 bassists and a drummer, as well as her trio of back-up
singers (one male, two female), which included a rather nice surprise: her
sister Yvonne Staples, still looking glamorous and regal at 74-years-old. The
first song they did was my favorite song off of her new album, "Wonderful
Savior." It is an acapella piece, which even calls for the bassists and drummer
to sing along with them! It was taken at a rather slower clip than the album
take is, but it was a rousing opener. The next was the Creedence Clearwater Revival crowd-pleaser, "Wrote a Song for
Everyone." The next song, "Creep Along Moses" was a wonderful song, very
reminiscent of early Gospel traditions. The next song was a hit by The Band, featured in the documentary The Last Waltz, which is a heavy rock
ballad, perfect for Mavis' husky voice. The next piece was the title song from
her new album, "You Are Not Alone." It is a spine-tingling song, one of the
best she's ever sung, and during the entire song the rather feisty audience was
totally silent, in reverence of the solemnity of the song. The next song struck
a very emotional chord with Mavis. "Freedom Highway" was a song that she had
sung during the March with Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr.. She heralded the good Dr. and tears welled up when she
exclaimed that they are still plodding down that freedom highway, trying to
accomplish what Dr. King had started. Another Gospel ballad, the rousing "Only
the Lord", followed. After that Mavis sent shivers down the audience's spine
yet again when she delivered the Randy Newman ballad "Losing You." It was a
moment of pure dramatic ecstasy, with Mavis running the whole gambit of emotion
about losing someone that you hold dear. Little Milton's "We're Gonna Make it"
was the next offering, which actually offered some call-and-response with the
audience. After that, Mavis and Yvonne went to go sit down at the back of the
stage like a couple of gossipy church-women as the three-piece band jammed,
which was a very enjoyable experience. 
They then ended with the classic Staples Singers ballad "I'll Take You
There", which the audience chewed up and loved. We left the venue feeling
uplifted and enlightened, because of Mavis and her message of good cheer and
the Lord.


     It truly was a perfect
evening, and Mavis Staples is truly a treasure in our American Musical culture.
Mavis, Yvonne, and the deceased "Pop" Staples have done so much for the Civil
Rights Movement and African American culture in general, that they deserve
every bit of fame that can be heaped upon them. They truly are our legacy.

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