Despite the cold damp weather, R&B legend Etta James put on a scorching show in Boston last weekend that’s sure to have raised the city’s temperature by a degree or two.
With her wonderful blues voice and her erotic grinding, writhing and crotch-grabbing, the 68-year old singer seemed like a cross between Ella Fitzgerald and Madonna. Or as one audience member described her, "It looks like grandma took too many aphrodisiacs."
The singer’s lewd antics and gyrations alternately entertained/baffled the crowd, it was her marvelous voice that had the Bank of America Pavilion audience mesmerized. The sold-out concert showed the recently svelte singer (James reportedly had gastic bypass surgery a few years ago) in fine form and spirits as well as with long blonde hair.
James, a multiple Grammy winner and 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, put on an hour long set with her tight and talented eight piece band, playing a mix of R&B covers and originals.
She gave the classic, You Can Leave Your Hat On, a very sensual reading, thrusting her hips suggestively to the audience’s delight. Her I’d Rather Go Blind, was a heart-breaking song about a woman who’d rather lose her sight than to have to see her man with another woman.
When she broke into her biggest hit, the beautiful, soaring 1961 ballad, At Last, it was impossible not to realize you were in the presence of a master. Her signature song has since been featured as the soundtrack for a variety of commercials and movies which has fortunately increased the familiarity of the tune with today’s audiences.
The singer also made Al Green’s Love and Happiness, and Johnny "Guitar" Watson’s I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby her own, prior to ending the night with a stellar reading of Kiki Dee’s Sugar on the Floor, a song which James explained had been written for her by the British singer.
The only real complaint of the night was how long it took Ms. Etta to finally appear on stage. Despite a 7:30 start time, James didn’t take appear until 10:15, after lengthy sets by British blues guitarist James Hunter and Boston’s own Susan Tedeschi.
While both performers put on entertaining hour-long blues-based sets, and Tedeschi obviously enjoyed strong support from the hometown crowd, the delay made many antsy and even annoyed.
After James finally did take the stage, after her first song or two a slow but steady stream of patrons began to make their way for the exits - whether they had only been there to see Tedeschi or more likely leaving to get home due to the late hour or to meet babysitters’ curfews.
Etta James, Susan Tedeschi and James Hunter at the Bank of America Pavilion
Saturday June 24, 2006