Irma Thomas, Lee Fields bring soul party to Mondavi Center

By Paul Piazza

Irma Thomas, the “Soul Queen of New Orleans,” turns 74 in a little over a week—fittingly, during Mardi Gras. For most of the past six decades, her life has been steeped in the musical gumbo of the Big Easy as a staple at Jazz Fest and regular at New Orleans’ small clubs.

But even with her royal pedigree, she had to reach into her bag of tricks to engage the very polite, but sedate audience at the Mondavi Center during her performance last Wednesday. In defense of the crowd, Mondavi’s seats are quite comfortable.

About four songs into her set, she stopped the show to remind people it’s almost Mardi Gras time back home, and that they needed to get in the spirit. So she whipped out a handkerchief and ordered the crowd to do the same. Soon people were waving hankies, hats or whatever was handy as the soul-party resumed onstage.

That was just one fine moment in the great, nationally-touring show called “Blues at the Crossroads,” a musical testimony to R&B, soul and blues of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

New Orleans wasn’t the only great music city represented. The excellent house band was the Dynamites from Memphis. On lead guitar was Eric Krasno of Soulive from Buffalo, NY. Astonishing young Brooklyn vocalist Alecia Chakour came out early and showed the crowd just why she’s creating such a buzz these days. Her touring history includes Lettuce and the Warren Haynes Band.

And let’s not forget that co-headliner Lee Fields—he’s often called “Little J.B. due to his compact physique, dance moves and powerful vocals—also currently resides in Brooklyn. Fields brought sheer exuberance, style and soul power to the stage. He played a great version of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” and brought new depth to a passionate “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” During the song, he paused and reminded the men in the audience that, you know, we wouldn’t be nothin’ without a woman.

Irma Thomas would probably agree.

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