The blues doesn’t typically generate big box-office, and that’s arguably to a fan’s advantage; rather than remote ‘rock star’ posturing, we get world-class performers delivering sweaty, intimate performances where the music becomes a communal exchange between artists and audience, without the intervention of handlers and an imposing wall of security to ensure that distance is maintained.
Peaches Staten’s latest is the last live recording captured at the original location of Buddy Guy’s Legends. (A fixture on the corner of Chicago’s South Wabash Street for twenty-one years, the club has since moved to a swankier location). Blessed with a huge voice and commanding presence, Staten delivers a hard-hitting, funky set that, in addition to providing some fine musical moments, serves as an object lesson in up-close-and-personal showmanship.
Staten is backed here by a superbly tight band equally at home with aching soul balladry (“I’d Rather Go Blind”), driving blue shuffles (“Hole In The Wall,” featuring skittery washboard percussion courtesy of Staten) and zydeco rave-ups (“Gotta Find My Man”). Mike Wheeler is a funky monster on guitar, aided and abetted by revelatory keys courtesy of Brian James. Both turn in solos that are nothing short of jaw-dropping. They’re anchored by a telepathically tight rhythm section featuring drummer Cleo Cole and bassist Larry Williams. Chris Harper, co-founder of Swississippi Records, guests on harmonica; he’s especially effective on a fine cover of B. B. King’s “You Know I Love You.”
The material is primarily upbeat; Staten’s clearly here for the party, and between-song patter shows her determined to keep proceedings lively. She repeatedly exhorts patrons to “dance on that pool table,” and elsewhere exhibits an easy-going exuberance that’s just plain irresistible. Staten wrote a handful, including a one-two punch to kick things off – the furiously funky “Long Distance Phone Call, and the silky, soulful “Don’t Rush Me.” She covers “Bad Case Of Lovin’ You” in fine fashion, and takes things out with a rollicking romp through Alberta Adams’ “Keep On Keepin’ On” that provides a fitting climax to a great party.
It’s a varied playlist, carefully considered and delivered with significant panache and polished professionalism. It’s a shame when an era comes to an end, and one hopes the new location will be able to replicate the musical magic that made Buddy Guy’s Legends … well, a legend. In the meantime, this is a fine way to close the old club’s doors!