Booker T. Jones – The HiFi, Melbourne (07/10/11)

Melbournians are rarely short of great bands to see, whether local or international, but it is a rare occasion to find oneself confronted with a living legend. Lovers of soul, blues and funk of all ages turned out on Friday night to bear witness to the one and only Booker T. Jones, certainly the most famous Hammond B3 organist in the world, as well as being the driving force behind more hits than you realised you were aware of.

Taking a seat behind his instrument and looking good for a man of 66 years, Jones and his band, comprised of guitarist Vernon ‘Ice’ Black, bassist Jeremy Curtis and drummer Darian Gray, launched into “Harlem House” from the new album The Road to Memphis.

For the duration of the evening the audience were treated to highlights from throughout Jones’ catalogue, a mix of new material, classic Booker T. and the MG’s tracks and various other notable songs that he had been involved with, either as the leader of Stax records’ house band, or as a producer or songwriter.

An example of the latter came when Jones stepped out from behind the keyboard, donned a guitar and addressed the microphone for the first time to perform a song of his that was first recorded by Albert King, “Born Under a Bad Sign”. The song of course is a piece of musical history, and the change from vintage soul into Chicago blues was executed perfectly by the band, and it turns out that Jones is also a great guitarist. However, while he was able to convey the tune and even the emotion of the piece, it has to be said that singing is not his strongest point, although in the context of the show the crowd didn’t seem to mind.

The song that will forever be Jones’ signature tune as well as being one of the most memorable r’n’b jams to come out of the 60’s, “Green Onions” made a surprisingly early appearance in the set, sounding as fresh as ever, despite the fact that he must have performed the piece thousands of times since its 1962 release.

Other highlights included “Time is Tight”, “Melting Pot”, a cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya” and “Hang ‘Em High”, which, with its epic crescendo and timeless melodic interplay between the guitar and organ, was the standout moment of the night.

Throughout the performance the band proved themselves a worthy stand-in for the MG’s, delivering the well loved arrangements with the appropriate amount of energy and groove. Gray, who also somewhat oddly added some rap verses occasionally, was particularly impressive, keeping the beat the as simultaneously loose and snappy as the late Al Jackson Jr. left it.

Jones came across as being a shy and dedicated musician who seemed genuinely humbled to be playing to such an attentive and enthusiastic audience, a rare and pleasant attitude to encounter in a musician whose music is so well known. Perhaps that is exactly the cause – the set list boasted some of the most famous blues and soul songs of all time, and while Jones is certainly famous, his fame perhaps is not as widespread as his music, having spent most of his working life as a backing musician for singers such as Otis Redding, or as a songwriter and producer for other artists such as Willie Nelson, Bill Withers and Rita Coolidge.

Or, just as likely, he is just a reserved and humble guy who still enjoys travelling the world and playing music before appreciative crowds, and for that, those who witnessed his performance at Melbourne’s HiFi Bar on Friday night are certainly grateful. It was an outstanding show and proof, if further proof was required, that some music is simply timeless.

Originally published on The AU Review on 10/10/2011. View original article.

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