Can Soiled Dove Underground host rock and roll legends like Booker T. Jones?

Categories: Concert Reviews

A. H. Goldstein
This isn't the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The list of upcoming artists beaming on a nearby screen includes artists like Nothing But Saxes, billed as "a smooth jazz experience." The menu includes items that feel more a propos to a Chili's than a rock venue. You can nibble on jalapeno cheese dip and hot wings as you take in the show. Then there's the audience that's steadily packing the Soiled Dove Underground on this Friday night. They're well-to-do couples on dates, decked in nice suits and understated dresses. They're grizzled music fans from another age, sporting white hair and ordering martinis. It's hard to connect the venue and the crowd with what was once a revolutionary brand of R&B, music that re-fit pop music with a harder edge and deeper degree of soul. But the disconnect disappears mere minutes after Booker T. Jones and his band start playing.

A trio of guitar, bass and drums lays down a funk-infused groove as an introduction. Drummer Darian Gray breaks in to offer an introduction befitting of a musical legend. Here comes Booker T. Jones, Stax Records veteran, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, political activist. Here comes the man who earned multiple Grammies for his work with legends like Sam and Dave and Otis Redding, the player who penned instrumentals like "Green Onions" and blues anthems like "Born Under a Bad Sign" that remain staples of American pop music. Then the man himself emerges, seats himself primly at his Hammond organ and begins to lay down the signature blocky chords and thoughtful, funky melodies that secured his spot as a musical legend.

Suddenly, the Soiled Dove Underground feels like the perfect place for this performance. That unsettling sense of sterile kitsch evaporates. The band is in its element here, and the ambiance suddenly makes sense. The 300-seat venue, located under the Tavern restaurant in Lowry, is misleading. This not a themed restaurant, a mere extension of the sports bar format from upstairs. This isn't solely a refuge for smooth jazz artists and baby boomers looking for a casual first date. The music plays into the fundamental layout and feel of this club, and that much is clear from the way Booker T. and the band deliver.

First and foremost is the sound. Booker T.'s warm organ lines find the perfect amount of resonance and projection. The shredding guitar solos by Vernon "Ice" Black, the seamless bass lines of Melvin Brannon Jr. and the spot-on drum work by Darian Gray all find a perfectly discernible role in the mix. So too, does the guitar solos by Jones' son, Ted, when he appears on stage to play on some of Booker T.'s best-known R&B anthems, tunes like "Green Onions" and "Hip Hug Her."

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