A decade after his death, Mavis Staples still pictures her father Roebuck "Pops" Staples standing to her right during a performance. He cast a regal shadow.
The Staple Singers formed 60 years ago this year on the floor of their south side home and Pops seemed to be in full force Friday afternoon when Staples made her Lollapalooza debut. Staples hour-long set was heavy on material from her upcoming "You Are Not Alone" record for Anti-, produced in Chciago with graceful integrity by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy.
Tweedy made a guest appearance for two songs from the record, due out Sept. 14. Dressed in black with black sunglasses he played acoustic guitar on the title gospel ballad which he wrote and played guitar and sang subtle background on John Fogerty's tempered "Wrote a Song For Everyone"........
...The set became a tough-to-beat Chicago Lollapalloza moment.
On a sunkissed afternoon Staples, her sister Yvonne, their three piece road band (bass, drums, guitar) and two other backing vocalists hit all the right emotive notes..
The most stirring number of the afternoon was a hard driving rendition of Pops' "Freedom Highway," which he wrote in 1965 to reference the four-day voter registration march from Montgomery to Selma, Ala. After the song, an emotionally drained Staples promised, "I'm still on the highway and I will be there until Dr. King's dream is realized."
Backing vocalist Donny Gerrard did Pops' country vocals just right in Staples' cover of "The Weight," popularized by the Staple Singers in the Band farewell film "The Last Waltz." I also always love to point out Gerrard was lead singer of the Vancouver-based Skylark which had the 1973 pop hit "Wildflower." And guitarist Rick Holmstrom consistently captured Pops' eerie tremelo guitar, also a major influence on Fogerty (he wrote "Born on the Bayou" from the haunting licks of Pops' Fender Telecaster).
Yes, I guess it was Popsapalooza.
Grant Park was just a supersized version of Pops Staples Park in his hometown of Drew, Miss.
Staples worked out other material from the new record including Tweedy's riff-driven "Only The Lord Knows" that reminds me of early '70s soul radio like the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band or the Winstons ("Color Him Father"), and a joyous jubilee gospel take of Rev. Gary Davis' "I Belong to the Band." Gerrard sang the first half of the medley "Too Close To Heaven" (a Prof. Alex Bradford Jr. gospel standard) with Staples chiming in for Brad Pathway's "I'm On My Way to Heaven Anyhow."
The slightly-more-than-modest gathering at the stage near Lake Shore Drive and Monroe Avenue finally got up to dance for the Staple Singers hit "I'll Take You There." Staples bid farewell to her new friend "Tweedy " and congratulated him on his 15th wedding anniversary which was Friday.
Staples wanted to hang out and see Lady Gaga's evening set but she had get up early Saturday to catch a flight to Vancouver, B.C. She is opening for Van Morrison.
"I like Lady Gaga," Staples said earlier this week. "She's a good singer, she's another Madonna. I've seen her on the award shows where she comes out these different outfits."
Tweedy was sitting across a kitchen table from Staples and said, "I don't know anything about Lady Gaga. It takes a lot of work to have an image like that. It's not something I would aspire to and its not my idea of music making. But it's something else.
"You just can't sit on your butt and make Lady Gaga happen. That's more energy than I got, for sure."
But Tweedy knew one thing for certain: " I do like the fact she stood up to the Westboro Baptist Church (in Topeka, Ks.) that preaches hate toward homosexuals," he said. "They protested outside one of her shows. They're all about hate and she said she was all about love."