The fabulous Mavis Staples took the stage at Suffolk Theater in Riverhead on Saturday night for a concert of newer songs and old favorites and, in her own words, “to have a GOOD time.”
And everybody did have a good time as she treated her adoring audience to the signature Staples sound, the somewhat understated and yet fervent gospel and soul style made famous in the ’50s by Mavis’s family band The Staple Singers.
Mavis, who has been performing since 1948 (she is now 74), was in great voice, well supported by a trio of background singers that included her sister Yvonne. Her band—a tight, stripped-down unit of guitar, bass and drums—provided that spare, slightly quirky groove essential to familiar Staples numbers like “Freedom Highway” and “I’ll Take You There.”
As promised, Mavis and her band essayed some more recent material as well. In recent years, she has released some very soulful recordings, including a cover of Funkadelic’s bluesy “Can You Get To That,” which always kind of sounded like a Staple Singers outtake anyway. On Saturday it was their second number, emphasizing group harmonies and back-up singer Donny Gerrard’s sonorous bass voice. Also nice was their rendition of the late Pops Staples number “I Like The Things About Me.”
As was appropriate for a Saturday night show, Mavis treaded lightly through the gospel side of her repertoire. “Holy Ghost” was beautiful, and Donny Gerrard was very welcome as a stand-in for Pops Staples on the classic “Too Close.” Freedom songs were represented by “Freedom’s Highway” and a wonderful “Eyes On The Prize.” Missing from the set: the Staples’ breakout gospel hit “Uncloudy Day” and the soul chestnut “Respect Yourself”—maybe next time?
Speaking of next time, Mavis, amid a lot of bantering with her adoring audience, mentioned that it was her very first time in over 60 years of touring that she had performed in Riverhead. “What took you so long?” she wanted to know. Good question. Come back soon, Mavis!