Solomon Burke’s arrival at Toronto’s Massey Hall after a 15-year hiatus was greeted with a burst of applause seldom heard around these parts. It signaled the beginning of festivities that would shake the venerable concert hall to its foundation. I’ve never witnessed as warm and as embracing a welcome as the one afforded the King Of Rock And Soul, who is nearing his 70th year. This adulation was full acknowledgement of a triumphal career, one that has spanned nearly six decades.
While Mr. Burke has had his share of ups and down in the business, through thick and thin there’s always been that rare instrument of a voice: one that gloriously attains heavenly heights with its purity and expressiveness. Mr. Burke may be at the pinnacle of the Soul totem pole, but his repertoire defies categorization.
The assembled were treated to the full gamut of that versatility and variety. There were those precious nuggets whose allure hasn’t faded with time’s march, such as "Just Out Of Reach", "Cry To Me", "Tonight’s The Night", "Down In The Valley", and "Everybody Needs Somebody", plus songs culled from his Grammy-award winning CD "Don’t Give Up On Me", one of which was a forceful reading of the title track. It was as poignant, sublime, and moving as anything heard in recent or distant memory.
Bedecked in splendiferous regalia featuring jewel-strewn cape, purple suit, and strands of pearls, Burke sat atop his throne with a kingly presence, while lavishing dozens of roses to female admirers who sought his glance. The charisma of this man is simply unparalleled. Moreover, the pacing and timing of the show was impeccable,and every performer (and musical/stage director) is well advised to see this extravaganza to see how a masterful production plays out.
The good-natured verbal asides with cohorts in his 10-piece band---including his youngest daughter back-up singer Candy---were charming. Such bonhommie leavened the intensity in wake of Burke’s patented Soul burners. Distinct sets of songs flowed in coherent bundles, something crucial in establishing special moods, such as the reflective and nostalgic ones generated from spot-on renditions of chestnuts popularized by many of Solomon’s 1960’s contemporary counterparts, such as Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, and Ben E. King.
Beyond his amazing register, Burke possesses the magnetism of a gigantic pied piper who can transfix an audience into a swoon with a single glorious note. The only possible comparisons would be James Brown and Al Green. Coincidentally, Green and Burke each honed their performance skills within the testimonial milieu of the Gospel pulpit prior to branching out into more secular paths.
One particularly evocative stretch was dedicated to Burke’s pioneering efforts in blending C&W with Soul. Burke’s foray into this realm preceded Ray Charles’ so-called ground-breaking by a good year. "Just Out Of Reach", "He’ll Have To Go", "Georgia On My Mind", and "Satisfied Mind" anchored a parade of Country classics, while another evocative stretch included such standards as "Stand By Me", "What A Wonderful World", and "Got To Get You Off My Mind". As powerful as it gets!
The last 30 minutes of this spectacular, non-stop 2 hour festival was pure delirium. A "spontaneous" party broke out, as the rockin’ side of Mr. Excitement came to the forefront. It made for a perfect climax to a night to remember. It began with "Long Tall Sally", and ended with everyone standing and shaking their booty to the frenzy of "Proud Mary". At least a hundred audience members flocked to the stage. It gave them a chance to bask in the glow of the charismatic Mr. Solomon Burke: a one-of-a-kind artist who wrote the book on delivering Soul with style, class, and power.