The Blind Boys of Alabama with Allen Toussaint
Live at Royce Hall
Another night in Los Angeles, another wonderful event at Royce Hall, as always presented by UCLA Live, those rascals. This was an unparalleled event, prefaced by some pretty decent sushi and a too big bottle of beer, along with some fabulous people watching. A varied, to say the extreme least, crowd of older, newer, younger, wiser, the folks gathered to see this event were in for a lovely treat, tucked away and safe from the rain in the warm confines of this amazing venue. And so we begin…
Allen Toussaint was, until Saturday night, someone I didn’t realize I was familiar with. Essentially, the man has written an incredible number of songs that have found their way into the consciousness of anyone exposed to music in any form. He’s credited with a large part of the creation of that New Orleans R&B sound, and at 72 years old, venturing onstage to a grand piano and nothing else, he showed that music will reside in his bones and soul until the end of everything. He was able to get his point across easily through just the accompaniment of that piano, and anyone who might have been disappointed that he didn’t have the full sound of a band to flesh out his compositions shouldn’t have been down for long. His homespun southern drawl, tinged with a laughing note whenever he spoke to the audience, rang out low and sweet as he amazed with such songs as “Whipped Cream,” which was a hit for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, “Sneakin Sally Through the Alley,” “Mr. Mardi Gras,” and, of course, “Southern Nights,” presented as a story/song as he regaled us with tales of his youth, memories, and the beautiful Louisiana sunsets. Infused with endless amounts of fun, plenty of warmth, and an over brimming cup of joy, Allen Toussaint was a lovely beginning to the evening.
After a brief intermission where everyone looked around and realized they were still inside a concert hall and not on Allen Toussaint’s front porch, the inestimable Blind Boys of Alabama sauntered out on stage in their matching white suits to a huge round of applause, foot stomping, and great howls of joy. Led by Vocalists Jimmy Carter, Bishop Billy Bowers, and Ben Moore, the Boys led us enraptured souls through a rousing set of standards and covers, including “People Get Ready,” “Spirit In the Sky,” (hurray for Norman Greenbaum!), and “Amazing Grace.” Funny, this reporter was certain we were going to be treated to “Amazing Grace,” and so was happy and thrilled when they let fly with this old, incredible Gospel standard toward the end of their set.
During the rousing show closer “Look Where He Brought Me From,” lead Blind Boy Jimmy Carter even took to the aisles, bringing the words down to the people themselves, smiling, laughing and, yes, testifying to the fact that we are all one, and we are united by music and faith and love. On this rainy night, we all felt the call of a higher power, and we answered it, and we were glad we’d come.