Booker T/Percy Sledge, Royal Festival Hall, London
Friday 19 August 2011
On the various levels of the Royal Festival Hall, the Southbank's Vintage festival is in full swing – quite literally on the mezzanine dancefloor, where period-clad couples whirl to a marvellous 1940s-style dance band.
Down in the basement, the Festival of Britain exhibition embodies the thrifty manner of 50s austerity chic, while in the main auditorium the soulboy pork-pie hats confirm the 60s soul revue is back. A succession of supporting acts dash through their hits, before a chunky, tuxedoed chappie with a permanent smile and a tight afro of improbably jet-black hair wins our hearts all over again.
Percy Sledge will be 70 this year, but he can still do the hip-shake, sidling across the stage to the relaxed funk groove of "24-7-365", before modestly admitting he's not as energetic as he used to be. But the part of him that really matters, that spine-tingling, pleading soul voice, remains in fine working order as he eases through classics like "Take Time to Know Her" and "The Dark End of the Street", his phrasing slipping from soaring, emotive tenor to gospelly squall within a single line.
Finally, it's time for "the song that put me here", the whole hall rising to acclaim "When a Man Loves a Woman", that most impassioned of deep-soul ballads: again, Sledge's delivery holds up well, even if his climactic knee-drop now happens almost in stages.
Booker T is, if anything, even better preserved than Percy Sledge, the veteran organist serenely calm as he and his band slip into "Green Onions". Instantly, the audience is grooving along, though the clipped terseness of Steve Cropper's original guitar has been supplanted by a more indulgent, bluesy display from Vernon Ice Black, who gets even more latitude over the predatory gait of "Born under a Bad Sign".
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