Better than…getting stomped at Altamont.
Merry Clayton is a soul legend. With over 40 years since her appearance on the Rolling Stones' “Gimme Shelter” Clayton has solidified herself as a top-notch belter, tackling anything and everything in between. Last night before a sizable crowd at the Mint, Clayton and her eight-piece band turned on the charm and recruited a few more members to her fanclub.
After her five instrumentalists and three back-up vocalists churned out driving blues, Clayton sauntered out to rapturous applause. Throughout the night countless “we love you!” shouts emanated from the crowd.
After promising the audience “some sweetness,” Clayton brought the band to a simmer with her take on Carole King's “After All This Time.” The chatty but adoring crowd responded enthusiastically to Clayton's question: “Got your liquor on?”
Clayton continued the parade of hits with her Dirty Dancing contribution “Yes,” full of '80s soul-ballad resplendence. Leon Russell's “A Song For You” created a hush as saxophonist Joe Vasquez played, before Clayton instigated a sing-along, imploring the audience “Y'all can do better.” And they did. By the end of the song most of the audience had caught on to Clayton's call and response.
Clayton introduced the next song, “The Times They Are A-Changing”, by highlighting her connections to Bob Dylan. “I consider him to be a friend,” she said after explaining her appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Clayton took a slow-burning tour through Dylan's anthem accompanied only by the guitar. When she finished, the rapt audience shouted for a little “Mighty Quinn” and she indulged them with an a cappella chorus.
Barely forty minutes into the show, Clayton announced she was wrapping up. “Mother needs to go home and get some rest,” she said. “This is not 1970 and I'm not 19.” Several members of the audience shouted for her to close with Bill Withers' “Grandma's Hands” and she playfully sang a chorus of that too. “None of that is in the show” she promised before launching into her signature song: “Gimme Shelter.”
Clayton is the original singer on the Rolling Stone's menacing classic. Her harrowing cries are surrounded by rock and roll lore and she happily embraces her role. “'We need you to come down and sing with these English guys,'” she recounted as the band vamped over the intro. “Me and these two children … He [Mick Jagger] is not black. Where did he get these lips from?”
Although she didn't belt out “rape and murder” with the same ferocity of forty years ago Clayton gave it her all and then slowly introduced each band member. When all was said and done their rendition lasted nearly 20 minutes before Clayton walked off the stage leaving the audience satisfied but wanting more.
Personal Bias: Clayton's contribution to “Gimme Shelter” is probably the best vocal performance ever released on a Rolling Stones record.
The Crowd: Diverse and looking to party. Plus Lou Adler.
Random Notebook Dump: The unidentified back-up vocalist who looked like a psychedelic Cornel West needs his own show.