The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Mavis Staples And Friends Try Their Best To Enliven A TV Taping

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 20, 2014 10:20PM

Mavis Staples (left) and Aaron Neville (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Okay Chicago!

I fell asleep around 1 a.m. with that declaration ringing in my head, threatening to make my dreams nightmares. The house announcer was the least of the problems for “I’ll Take You There: Celebrating 75 Years of Mavis Staples” at the Auditorium Theatre Wednesday night. The four-hour show only seemed to get a sense of momentum going when the birthday girl herself (who turned 75 July 10, for those keeping score at home) was onstage.

The main problem with the show was that it was being filmed for a DVD release next year. While I’m certain the raw footage will be expertly edited and spliced together to make an excellent concert video, it did not make for compelling viewing inside Louis Sullivan’s hallowed palace.

There were moments of magic but they were few and far between. Joan Osborne took time away from wondering if God was a stranger on the bus to kick off the show with a rousing rendition of "You’re Driving Me (to the Arms of a Stranger)." Otis Clay—Chicago’s #1 Soul Man, per the announcer—brought some grit and moxie to “I Ain’t Raising No Sand.” Buddy Miller (“An Americana Superstar!”) brought his raspy tenor and stellar guitar playing to bear on “Woke Up this Morning (With My Mind on Jesus)” and Emmylou “One of America’s Music Legends” Harris’ ethereal voice excelled on “Far Celestial Shore.” But every time a guest would end a song, production assistants and roadies would bound onstage and take 5-10 minutes setting up the shot for the next performer. It halted any momentum the show and the house band assembled by producer Don Was in its tracks. And it was especially jarring when the show moved from someone like Harris, who can still sing the phone book and make a crowd cry, to Glen Hansard, who stuck to the Rod Stewart/Jeff Beck version of “People Get Ready” and was overwhelmed by backing singers (and the evening’s MVPs) the McCrary Sisters. The McCrarys provided the soul lacking in Ryan Bingham’s take on “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” and Eric Church’s (“Fresh off his North American Tour!”) rendition of “Eye on the Prize.”

By the time the first half of the show ended with Staples and Aaron Neville rousting a lethargic crowd to its feet with “Respect Yourself” members of the audience, some of them fueled with enough alcohol to ignore the suggestions offered in the song, began to complain about the constant breaks on the stage and how they would riot “if I miss Bonnie Raitt, Goddammit!” (Raitt, by the way, came correct on “Turn Me Around” with Staples and Staples’ band, trading soulful vocals with the guest of honor and playing some fierce slide guitar.)

The stop-and-go nature of the concert continued after intermission. Gregg Allman nearly fell asleep during a run-through of “Have a Little Faith” and lost track of the rhythm during a campfire version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with Raitt, Neville, Staples and Taj Mahal. Widespread Panic played two songs, including a leaden cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” that proved yet again that jam bands, with their penchant for excess and volume (and possibly hallucinogenics), are their own worst fucking enemies.

Photo credit: Getty Images

It wasn’t until the later part of the show, with Staples front and center, where the concert finally began to pick up steam. One of the few highlights of the second act was a cover of Talking Heads’ “Slippery People” with Staples and Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, with Staples and Chassagne dancing with abandon. Grace Potter provided a sultry, moving cover of Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” that had several in attendance breaking the “no smartphones allowed” rule to Google her name. And Jeff and Spencer Tweedy provided the denouement to the evening with a touching “You Are Not Alone.”

By the time everyone gathered for one last song, an encore of “The Weight,” I felt invigorated the show ended on a high note and relieved I survived as the announcer wished the audience safe travels home. It was an interesting look into how a television concert video is made and I’m sure public television stations will air it until viewers are sick of it during future pledge drives. I, for one, hope the high water marks make the cut in the editing room.


First Set

You’re Driving Me (to the Arms of a Stranger) - Joan Osborne
Heavy Makes you Happy - Keb Mo
I Ain’t Raisin’ No Sand - Otis Clay
Woke Up this Morning (With My Mind on Jesus) - Buddy Miller
Waiting for My Child To Come Home - Patty Griffin
Far Celestial Shore - Emmylou Harris
Freedom Highway - Michael McDonald
People Get Ready - Glen Hansard
Respect Yourself - Aaron Neville with Mavis Staples

Second Set

Hope in a Hopeless World - Widespread Panic
For What It’s Worth - Widespread Panic
If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me) - Ryan Bingham
Grandma’s Hands - Grace Potter
A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall - Bingham, Potter, Griffin, Harris
Eyes on the Prize - Eric Church
Wade in the Water - Taj Mahal
Have a Little Faith - Gregg Allman
Turn Me Around - Bonnie Raitt with Mavis Staples
Will the Circle Be Unbroken - Raitt, Staples, Mahal, Allman, Neville
Slippery People - Win Butler & Regine Chassagne (Arcade Fire) with Staples
You’re Not Alone - Jeff and Spencer Tweedy with Staples
I’ll Take You There - Mavis Staples


The Weight - Mavis Staples and the entire cast