Monday, February 23, 2015


Booker T. Jones
Larcom Theatre
Beverly MA
February 21, 2015

by Don Stradley 

Booker T. Jones isn't bringing his show to every city in America, which is why many loyal fans braved the snowy New England weather to see him at the historic Larcom Theater in Beverly, MA.  Jones' performance was well paced and professional, not to mention fiery enough that the slightly less than 566 capacity crowd was often left breathless.
A clean cut opening act known as Cozy Covers had set the table reasonably well with some jazzy versions of 1960s tunes, but most in the audience were politely waiting for Booker T, a walking embodiment of the the 1960s, and a performer still vital long after his Lifetime Achievement Grammy.
The stage looked very much like it might have looked for a Booker T gig of 50 years ago, his aging Hammond B3 organ  propped up at stage right, with seemingly weathered Leslie speakers churning away on each side of the stage. His band, earthy looking men with several decades of experience between them, appeared first.   After a quick 'Showtime at the Apollo' type introduction by the drummer (“Are you ready for the living legend?"),  Booker sauntered out and took his place at the Hammond.  Dressed in a baggy dark suit, porkpie hat, his tie slightly askew, he looked like what we might call a "Gentleman Blues Brother."  There was beauty and power in his playing as he smashed through a selection of old hits recorded with the immortal MGs, including 'Green Onions', 'Hip Hugger', 'Soul Limbo', and a rousing 'Hang 'em High'.   His  hands moved across the keyboard like he was pushing the sounds out toward us;  when he laid down on a chord  the old Leslies would light up and whir, their innards spinning like the gears of an old steam engine. He spent most of the night playing his beloved Hammond, though he broke midway through the show to play guitar and sing.  He plays guitar the way most keyboard specialists play guitar, not attacking with authority, but letting his left hand shape the chords, gently thumbing the strings with his right.
Jones' voice is wide and deep, appropriate for his laconic rendition of ‘Hey Joe’ done up Jimi Hendrix style. The middle part of the set also included some Jimmy Reed tunes, 'Love the One You're With', and even that piece of moldy 1980s psychedelia, 'Purple Rain'.    In between songs he told stories, wiped his brow, thanked the audience for coming out during a snowstorm, and introduced his son Ted, who joined the band and showed himself to be a fine, tasteful guitarist.  The bulk of the guitar work was done by  Vernon "Ice" Black, a curious musician who seems to fumble his way into solos, hitting wrong notes, dealing with unplanned feedback noise, until somehow,  after about 38 bars, he hits a groove.  More than once on Saturday night Black appeared to be unsure of himself, only to eventually fall into a sort of zombie trance and create something remarkable.   The beauty of it was watching Jones be patient as Black wandered around the fretboard, trying to find his way into a song.
The show was rich, dense, and relentless, each song leisurely building up to a thick layer of sound that threatened to blow down the walls of the old Larcom.  The grand finale was ‘Time Is Tight’, which Jones started slowly, as if to make sure we heard every note, and for some it felt like we were hearing the song's loveliness for the first time.  Then came the crescendo, with Black knocking our heads in with more shrieking guitar sounds. The band returned for an encore of the MG's 1970's hit, ‘Melting Pot’, turning it into a lengthy jam that left the audience in a kind of merry stupor.

Many had come thinking they would see a nostalgia show. They left having seen a veteran contender who can still punch his weight.

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