Review: Mavis Staples @ Burton Cummings Theatre
Despite knowing absolutely nothing about Mavis Staples, I really wanted to see her. I knew she was a legend and I’m at the age where I feel the need to see all musical legends. This is a direct result of the events from the past two years when many of us realized that legends are not immortal. In fact, by the time they become categorized as legends, time starts ticking.
I don’t usually do research on musicians before I see them. The most fun part of this journey for me is to walk into a theatre with no knowledge of what’s about to happen and to just let it happen, with no pre-conceived ideas of what should or will happen. This leaves the whole show wide open for euphoria. And it’s that euphoria that keeps me coming back for more.
In a break with tradition, I decided to research Mavis before the show. I attended a Jazz Winnipeg sponsored screening of the Mavis Staples documentary at Cinemateque.
For the first time I saw and heard Mavis. As the film progressed I wondered how in the world I had not heard of this woman or The Staple Singers before. When I got home from the documentary, I immediately ordered the first four Staples Singers albums online.
As with many legend shows, the crowd was older, and some were elderly. I was sitting in the first balcony and about 15 minutes before the show started, an older woman tripped and fell coming down the stairs. She managed to steer herself onto the empty seats near her as opposed to directly over the balcony railing. Everyone around me gasped.
I know True North is doing a lot of renovations in the theatre and I’m wondering if they could install hand railings on either side of the stairs in the first balcony. They’d have to be pretty small because the chairs aren’t wide, but it looked like a lot of people at this show could really have used something to hold onto while making their way to their seats. True North, I’m hoping you’ll look into this.
The lights went down and a woman with the most glorious afro entered the stage. She was Kandace Springs, a 28 year old singer/songwriter/pianist from Nashville. She seemed a bit nervous initially, but had a lovely soft, delicate voice and was quite comfortable in front of her keyboard and piano. She played a lot of R&B with her young trio and the crowd seemed to enjoy it, giving her a partial standing ovation at the end.
The people behind me called her performance “awesome”. I didn’t have that same reaction, but I didn’t dislike anything she was doing either, it all felt nice. It just didn’t reach me to the same level as others.
I think part of the reason is because I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t a local act on stage opening for Mavis. I KNOW Jazz Winnipeg does a lot to promote the local jazz community, but I think it would have been really cool to give a band or performer from Winnipeg the opportunity to say “I opened for the legendary Mavis Staples”.
Mavis’ band introduced her to a standing ovation and started with the appropriate “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)”.
I have to tell you something…after I watched the documentary, I was a bit nervous about seeing Mavis. The doc highlighted her whole career which was really cool, but as it got closer to present day, it featured the deepest range of her voice and I wondered what a whole show of just that ultra deep range would be like for someone who has very little history with Mavis Staples.
I needn’t have worried. Mavis still has range in her voice. But it’s the deepest of the deep range that drives the crowd wild. And quite honestly, it was pretty cool to see.
As the show went on, I enjoyed Mavis more and more. She was a pleasure to watch and seemed personable, real and authentic. I bet the Mavis you see on stage is the same Mavis you’d see in her kitchen (if you were lucky enough to be invited to her kitchen) and that’s refreshing.
I really enjoyed her cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”. It was upbeat and I’ve never heard that song played like that before.
“Respect Yourself” was a highlight, with Mavis injecting Aretha’s “Respect” in the middle. At the end, Mavis spoke about Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and how it sounded very similar to her family’s “Respect Yourself”. Apparently Madonna had to pay royalties to the Staple family because of that song.
It’s probably not the case for most people in the theatre, but “Far Celestial Shore” was my favourite song of the night. It was relaxing and soothing and as Mavis sang, I felt protected and comforted like my Grandmother was singing it. Another highlight for me was “You Are Not Alone” I guess I really need to hear these reassuring songs right now.
“Freedom Highway” was a crowd favourite, Mavis’ Father “Pops” wrote it in 1962 for “the big march”. She received a standing ovation at the end of that song.
After the rockin’ “Love And Trust”, Mavis left the stage with the background singers and the crowd clapped as her band played an instrumental. Guitarist, Rick Holmstrom played one of the most character-filled, quietest guitar solos I’ve ever heard. He then morphed it into a melodic Blues solo and at the end, the crowd gave him and the rest of the band a standing ovation.
Mavis came back and introduced the rest of her solid band and shook hands with people in the first row as the band played “Reach Out, Touch A Hand, Make A Friend”.
She encouraged all of us to buy CD’s and/or t-shirts from the merch booth and told us she signed everything herself.
Then, the strangest thing happened. From out of nowhere, a guy named Sean ran up to the stage with an album for her to sign. She initially brushed him off and security took him away…but then she called him back.
Security released him and he brought her the album again. His hand visibly shook as he reached up to give her the album. Apparently it was a Vee-Jay Records Staple Singer’s album from 1956. It was the first gospel album to sell a million records. Obviously, it was very special and Mavis was more than happy to stop the show to sign it. She then shook the security guard’s hand to make amends.
Mavis called Kandace back to the stage and everyone (including the audience) sang “I’ll Take You There”. The band rocked out as she left the stage and that was it. There was no encore. Wait. Unless the second time she came out was the encore…I’m not sure. The lights went on really fast and the people around me weren’t ready to leave.
During the show, there were no goosebumps moments for me. However, it was a pleasure to watch and listen to Mavis. I thought a lot about what she’s gone through in her 67 year career. She truly is “a living witness” to the past and “a soldier” for the remaining years to come.
I’m so grateful I got to see the legendary, Mavis Staples.
TicketMOMster is a Rock and Jazz-loving Mom; single-handedly keeping Ticketmaster alive in Winnipeg. Follow her musical journey here: www.facebook.com/TicketMOMs