Review by Don Wilcock
Photographs by Rudy Lu
OK, I admit it. My expectations for the Mavis Staples/Joan Osborne concert at Proctors last weekend were way over the top. I have seen transcendent performances by both artists, who, at their best, grab their audiences by the throat and take them to heaven not just in their great songs, but with their personalities that cause you to fall in love with them through their intimate connections and amazing vocal prowess.
The idea that these two beautiful souls would collaborate had me fantasizing that together one plus one would equal infinity, an explosive fusion of two great sirens, one black, one white; one a legend of the civil rights movement – the moral equivalent of Martin Luther King – the other a waif from Kentucky who spent years woodshedding with the Holmes Brothers to channel the blues giants and erase society’s imposed boundaries between gospel, blues and pop. Osborne is a vocal dynamo who turned me into a believer more than two decades ago when she blew the roof of The Metro in Saratoga with a version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me” that transformed his dirty old man ballad into an erotic orgasm.
Of course, all that hope of an epic collaboration was fantasy. Four days before their major U.S. tour opened in the famed Fillmore in San Francisco, Osborne had yet to rehearse with Staples. She told me they had yet to even get together and talk about the tour. By the time the show hit Schenectady, they’d done 20 shows in a little over a month, and Mavis chided her “Skin–eck–at–diddy” audience: “I believe this is my first time here. What took you so long? You should have had us before now. You let me get older.”