In March, Bend received a visit from the godfather of funk. On Saturday, the city welcomed the sultan of soul.
That would be multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the M.G.’s, the four-piece band that almost single-handedly defined the Memphis soul sound with Stax Records in the ’60s. After missing the aforementioned George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic show (all the more depressing considering Clinton’s recently announced, impending retirement), this reporter wasn’t about to sleep on Jones’ Saturday show at the Tower Theatre.
Good decision. Jones and his quartet — his son Ted Jones on guitar, drummer Darian Gray and bassist Melvin Brannon — took the roughly three-quarters-full crowd on a journey through the legend’s career, unearthing a few surprises along the way. Chief among these was the younger Jones, who under any other circumstances would have been the undeniable star of the show. Even competing with his legendary dad’s chops, Ted Jones stood out with each solo he played, starting immediately with his break on throbbing show opener “Hang ’Em High.” Of his many standout moments (simply too many to list here), his playing on the slowly building jam on the M.G.’s latter-day classic “Melting Pot” deserves mention, alongside Brannon’s growling grooves.
The elder Jones had a trick or two up his sleeve, too. The crowd got plenty of his distinctive Hammond organ playing on the expected M.G.’s hits — “Green Onions,” “Hip Hug-Her” and “Time is Tight” were all highlights — as well as a ferocious read-through of Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign.” But he spent a good chunk of the set fingerpicking a guitar, setting up some father-son duels on “Hey Joe” and a stripped-down version of Prince’s “Purple Rain” in the second set. He also proved his mettle on the vocal mic on many of those aforementioned songs — no small feat when you’re covering material you worked on with Bill Withers (“Ain’t No Sunsine”) and King.
Along the way, Jones told stories about watching Jimi Hendrix play with The Isley Brothers and accepting an award from Prince (to introduce “Hey Joe” and “Purple Rain” respectively). The sets included a few glimpses at Jones’ lasting influence through covers of Lauryn Hill’s “Everything is Everything,” and an encore performance of OutKast’s “Hey Ya,” which morphed partway through into a fiery reading of “When Something is Wrong With My Baby.”
These song choices, coupled with the exuberant performances, made clear that Jones isn’t just resting on his legacy. That’s not really a surprise, considering the man’s career in full, but it is a welcome counter-current in a sea of legacy acts and nostalgia tours.