There are certain Seattle bartenders who strongly believe the Obama administration's first mistake was inviting Aretha Franklin's hat to sing at the president's inauguration instead of Chicago native/gospel singer/civil rights activist/Grammy winner/professional badass Mavis Staples. I've never seen Aretha Franklin's hat perform live, in person, but even so: last night Staples gave a magnetic performance that leads me to agree with these bartenders.
Mavis Staples, hatless
"We've come to you this evening to give you some joy, some inspiration, and some positive vibrations," Staples began after introducing her band. "Hopefully enough to last you the next six months." Then she launched into "Jesus is Mine," "Wrote a Song for Everyone," "The Weight" (aka "I pulled into Nazareth..") and "Freedom Highway." People sang along where they could.
It would be trite and lazy to simply say that Staples has soul—the same could be said of everyone who doesn't make a sport of gassing kittens.
Her husky, barrel-aged voice is lovely but more to the point, it's filled with love. A lot of love. Mostly directed at Jesus. You can't listen to that voice and help but dwell on love—the people who love you and the people you love, like your grandmother, whose voice had the same low, gravely timbre when she sang gospel duets with her bird dog. After you dwell on family, you move onto other things you love: house pets, the new Sherlock Holmes series, Bloody Marys (SHUTUPILOVETHEM).
And after about an hour of zoning out, listening to this woman croon love into your ears, you look around and realize that you're not the only one totally relaxed, zoning out, and smiling in the dark—just as Staples launches into her Grammy-award-winning hit, "You Are Not Alone." And then you think: Fuck Aretha Franklin's hat.