SXSW Music Review: Mavis Staples
The freedom highway extends all the way to the Clive Bar
By Thomas Fawcett,
10:25AM, Wed. Mar. 13, 2019
A hair over five feet tall and four months shy of her 80th birthday, Mavis Staples took the Clive Bar to school and church on Tuesday night.
The Chicago native spread joyful noise with the Staple Singers for nearly half a century alongside her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples and siblings Pervis, Cleotha, and Yvonne, and launched her solo career on Stax Records back in 1969. The Staple Singers’ message music provided a soundtrack to the civil rights movement and on Tuesday, Mavis led a 30-minute trip down the freedom highway. A sublime shot of gospel-soul, opener “If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)” served as both invitation and invocation.
“If you’re ready, come go with me/ No hatred will be tolerated.”
Staples doesn’t wail with the same power she once did, but her low voice roiled and rumbled on “Who Told You That,” a Jeff Tweedy-penned collaboration from 2017’s If All I Was Was Black. “Changes” explored the blues tradition of the Staples’ Windy City, while the stuttering funk of “Slippery People” covered the Talking Heads, which the Staple Singers performed live on Soul Train in 1984.
Backed by guitarist Rick Holmstrom, bassist Jeff Turmes, drummer Stephen Hodges, and a pair of vocalists, the playful main attraction sipped hot tea between songs, joked with the crowd, and grasped the reaching hands of first-row fans. Accompanied only by Holmstrom’s crawling guitar for the first minute of closing hymn “Love and Trust,” Staples broke it down one last time:
“The simplest things can be the hardest to do/ Can’t find what you’re looking for even when it’s looking for you.”