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Stax!

Stax Museum of American Soul

[Photo from our trip to New Orleans & Memphis last October]

On Sunday past we went up to Perth for the evening to hear the Stax legends Eddie Floyd, Steve "The Colonel" Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn (who can't be mentioned without their nicknames) along with the somewhat younger Lester Snell (keyboards) and Steve Potts (drums). It was part of the Southern Fried Festival of American Roots Music.

The support was from English country/soul group Phantom Limb, who were very good - an interesting mix of styles, and a fantastic singer (although, as G thought, a voice wasted on country :D).

The Stax guys were fantastic, though! Their set was about 1hr 45min without a break, and the first half was instrumental only - Eddie Floyd didn't join them until about half way through. The instrumental set consisted primarily of Booker T & The MGs material, with Lester Snell admirably filling taking on the role of Booker T. The pieces were all well known, including Soul Limbo which they knew had been used all over the cricket, and were somewhat amused by. The set also included Hip Hug Her, which I particularly like since it's on the Northern Exposure TV show soundtrack :).

They did seem a little bit uncomfortable on that large stage without a singer, and the pieces were straightforward renditions, often almost exactly as on recordings, but a little bit lacking in energy and flare. However, when Eddie Floyd bounced on stage with little or no announcement, everything moved up a gear. The band were far more in their element accompanying a singer, as would have been their primary role over the years at Stax, and their playing became more complex and interesting as well as they relaxed.

Eddie Floyd's energy was boundless - despite being 75, he has the voice and energy of a 30 year old. Unlike many older musicians, his voice sounds as good as it ever did, and he really worked the crowd. He managed to get people up dancing a bit straight away, and by the end of his set had most of the hall on their feet (our only gripe about this gig was the formal, fully seated nature of the venue - it really needed to be a standing gig). Steve Cropper and Donald Dunn were solid in their backings - Dunn's bass playing is not full of smart licks and fancy pyrotechnics, but is a very distinctive and steady, solid sound and style - exactly what that sort of music requires behind the singer. Steve Cropper played in eaxctly the style you'd expect from him, with many of the same licks and turns of phrase as you hear on his recordings.

They covered lots of Stax classics, including Floyd's own iconic Knock On Wood, and finishing with Soul Man as their encore (they had promised to do a Blues Brothers number earlier!). This wan't a gig of musicians expanding their repertoire and throwing in a few familiar numbers just to keep the crowd happy - this was musicians playing the same stuff they've been playing for near on 50 years because they know that's what the audience wants to hear, and they are playing for the sole purpose of entertaining the audience. You don't get that so much, really - it's in a musician's nature to want to keep trying new things, and I imagine it can get pretty dull playing the same stuff for so long, but the audience certainly appreciated it! This is a band that exists for the audience, not the other way round.

It was a fantastic gig - to see these guys, who are living legends if you're into soul music, playing the material you love and only hear as recordings from the (for us) rather distant past - it was an event I won't forget. We are very lucky to still have the opportunity to see musicians like this, from an era which occured well before we were born, but from which we love the music nonetheless.

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