The organisers of Perth Festival are clearly strong advocates for finishing on a high note. On the final Sunday of the festival, tens of thousands of people gathered along Canning Highway to celebrate Bon Scott and the Highway To Hell, and the Chevron Lighthouse closed its doors with the beacon of joy that is Mavis Staples.
Local songwriter Lucy Peach promised that the evening was going to be a “highway to heaven” as she embarked on a short set that would appease those that arrived at the venue early. During the performance, Peach delivered songs that spoke of being at one with nature, femininity and wedding songs to yourself. Peach and her partner on acoustic guitar showed their knack for a heartfelt folk tune. Silver Tongue was aptly titled as Peach’s strongest asset is her powerful voice. She warmed the crowd and couldn’t hide her delight at being invited to share the stage with Mavis Staples.
Mavis Staples is a living legend. She has been spreading the truth with her songs since the 1950s. Inspired by a close friendship with Martin Luther King Jr, Staples became a spiritual and musical voice of the civil rights movement. Despite the decades of touring, the fearless singer has lost none of her depth or expression.
Always one to acknowledge her roots, Staples and her band opened with The Staple Singers tune If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me), and quickly showed that the slick troupe would pack a sound that was much bigger than the bands numbers would suggest. Take Us Back is a celebration of love and friendship, which wasn’t lost on the sizeable audience. The opening salvo had the crowd dispensing with their daily worries and quickly being focussed on the intangible energy and jubilation that Staples instills in punters.
At 80 years of age, Staples may be less light on her diminutive feet but her voice has lost none of its power or grit. Her between song banter told of her appreciation to be in Perth, an impressive Howling Wolf impersonation and a vow that she would like to run for President. The rhythm section were set to the side of the stage, but were rock solid throughout, with a driving bass-line leading the outfit through a ominous Who Told You That.
Rarely would Staples be upstaged, but her Canadian backing singer Donny Gerrad certainly took the chocolates with his rich baritone during a take on Funkadelic’s Can You Get To That. The other covers on the night didn’t fare so well, with Respect Yourself being pedestrian and For What It’s Worth falling short of Staples recently recorded tunes. Things came firmly back on track with Rick Holmstrom offering up some well sculptured guitar twang on Touch a Hand, Make a Friend.
When the band returned for an encore, Staples mentioned that they would be playing a song as an acknowledgment of black history month. The heartfelt rendition of Keep Your Eyes On The Prize, a traditional folk song that was a signature of the American Civil Rights Movement, was a fitting end to a captivating performance. Mavis Staples promised that she would deliver plenty of joy, happiness, inspiration and positive vibrations. She didn’t let anybody down.
Photos by Marnie Richardson