Charismatic Mavis Staples Brings Her Joy to Calvin Theatre

For expressions of sheer joy onstage, nobody beats Mavis Staples. Now more than 63 years into a career that began when she was 9, the veteran singer and civil rights advocate remains a beatific presence in concert, where she is given to sing, preach and exhort — sometimes all at once, which happened a time or two when she performed Thursday night at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton.

Backed by a six-piece band (including her sister, Yvonne, as one of three supporting vocalists), Staples juxtaposed new with old, performing songs from her three most recent albums with classic tunes from her catalog. Her always-expressive voice has deepened and weathered over the years to become one of the more enveloping instruments you’ll ever hear, and if Staples has lost a touch of her range, she’s only added to her considerable charisma.

She was in command from the start, on a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” and she purred out the uplifting lyrics to “Can You Get to That,” from her latest album, “One True Vine.” Uplift was a common theme that ran through another new song, the gospel-flavored “Holy Ghost,” as well as tunes like the Staple Singers’ “Freedom March,” a song that dates to her and her family’s time at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s, and her iconic cover of “The Weight.” In fact, everybody, everywhere, should hear Staples sing “The Weight” onstage once in their lives: she dug into the Band’s lyrics as if she had lived them, trading verses with members of her group while guitarist Rick Holstrom both anchored the song and kept it moving with lick after tasteful lick.

Sometimes the uplift yielded to material a little more down and dirty, like “Let’s Do It Again.” Staples playfully volleyed the suggestive verses with deep-voiced backing singer Donny Gerrard on a different kind of worship song, and then she and the band brought the two worlds together to close the show with the Staple Singers’ immensely funky 1972 hit “I’ll Take You There.” Heaven, celestial or otherwise, has never seemed more real.

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