Saturday, June 16, 2007

Booker T. & the MGs: Groovin' in NYC

When Booker T. & the MGs took the outdoor stage at Rockefeller Park in downtown Manhattan Wednesday (in a FREE concert), storm clouds lurked low, threatening to unleash a major downpour at any moment. You talk about magic? Baby--those clouds did not dare allow a drop of rain to fall. Maybe they were just there for the show. Smart clouds.

In an era where reunion acts rarely feature more than one member of the original band, it was a genuine joy to see Booker T. Jones himself on the Hammond B-3, Steve Cropper slicing those classic riffs on guitar, Donald "Duck" Dunn keeping the groove flowing on bass. (The only non-original member--at times, painfully clear--was Letterman show's drummer Anton Fig.) Considering the MGs' first track came out in 1962, these bad boys have been taking it to the bridge for a long time, and they know how to play together.

The set started cooking with the MGs' instrumental rendition of Summertime--a tune truly at odds with the inclement weather. Hip Hug Her got this reporter into a dancing frenzy that wouldn't quit, especially when the first notes of Green Onions hit. Next up: a searing take on Hang 'Em High, that had the drummer working to keep track of the seamless rhythm changes that the MGs have handled for almost 50 years. The build up of this song is almost classical in nature; when you get to those last high chords of Booker T. you feel like you're seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.

However, the true high point of the show was the classic BT&TMGs hit Time is Tight. Thinking about their treatment now still brings tears to my eyes. They started out so slowly, sadly, beautiful. It was pure poetry. Time is tight; there's not much left. In the way they played the tune, you could feel all the loss of friends and moments gone by. And just as you were about to give it all up, there's a pause, then the familiar bass line comes in at the speed you remember all these years, and you think, "Well, at least there's still this moment and man, it is special." Moments like that are rare in pop concerts. It was fantastic. To take it out, the band swirled into a--get this, no lie!--Deerhoof-like groove. And then it was done.

Well, not quite. After a short break, the MGs came back--this time with the new Queen of Soul--Miz Sharon Jones, who was obviously excited to be on stage with her childhood idols. With Jones, the MGs swung through an all-Otis Redding set including Midnight Hour, (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay, I've Been Lovin' You Too Long (to Stop Now), and Knock on Wood. The MGs, Redding's former backup band, flowed with Jones especially well on Dock of the Bay (cowritten by Cropper), which started slow and low, then built through a three modulation crescendo to soul-stirring heights, easing off with an audience-participatory "whistle" to end the tune. When she launched into Lovin' You Too Long, taking time out with each member in the band to "feel their love," she brought down the house.

(Brief aside: If you haven't yet caught Sharon Jones in concert--do yourself a favor and go see her! She's a virtual dynamo live, and, with her regular back-up band, The Dap Kings, she got even the most jaded New York music critics dancing (yes, dancing!) at last year's South-by-Southwest festival in Austin.)

(Brief aside 2: It always amazes me how people react at free outdoor concerts. It used to be the yuppie wine and cheese crowd that came, set up their blankets and paid not attention to the show at all. Now it's the yuppie wine and cheese and toddler crowd. They come, they pay no attention to the show at all, and--WORSE--they teach their kids not to pay any attention, either! Imagine what going to a show will be like when these kids grow up! I mean, I saw mommies turning their little ones away from the stage, during the show, so they could talk on a cell phone together. I was dancing to Booker T. and the MGs and people were staring like I was way out of line! If you can't dance to these guys--who can you dance too??? And, excuse me, but to the woman who was doing the New York Times crossword puzzle DURING the show--What were you thinking?? Lady--Time IS Tight!! There are important moments in your life to pay attention to--and the Times will be there when you get home.

Enough ranting. Let everyone live their life, be cool, chill out, etc. etc. Bullshit! Maybe if people paid more attention, Otis Redding would still be alive today! I do what I can to bring awareness, including to myself. So there. So long.

Photo: Otis Redding with Booker T. and The MGs (l to r Al Jackson, Otis Redding, Donald Dunn, and Steve Cropper). Courtesy of


Karen said...

Thanks for this recap. I feel as tho I was there!

Unknown said...

After reading this I just had to go out an listen to "Time is Tight" again. Thanks!