By Joel Francis
Soul legend Booker T. Jones’ concert Sunday night at Knucklehead’s was the tale of two shows. The first half of Jones’ two-hour set was solid, if unspectacular and marred by sound and equipment issues. After a 20-minute recess to fix the technical problems, the band returned rejuvenated and tore through powerful readings from the MGs catalog.
Jones’ organ playing has always been more powerful than his singing voice, but both his instruments were drowned out by Troy Gonyea’s guitar. The quartet started off fine with the opening trio of songs from this year’s “Potato Hole” album, but it was difficult to hear Jones’ between-song banter and his singing on “Born Under A Bad Sign” was inaudible.
That song earned a few scowls toward the soundboard and a staff member hurriedly setting up a second mic at the organ. Jones took a mulligan on that one and ran it through again with somewhat improved results. The sound problems followed Jones across the stage when he strapped on a black Stratocaster to pay tributes to his friends and fellow Stax legends Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding.
Hayes and David Porter’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’” was marred by feedback that made “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” unlistenable. After the sound crew proved unable to fix what Jones identified as “440 or 360 frequency” hum, the band took a technical break.
With the sound fixed, the band emerged a new beast. Jones’ organ was crisp and each instrument was more distinct. The band seemed happier, too, and made up for the false start. New song “Native New Yorker” sounded like a lost Allman Brothers track and Drummer Darian Gray updated a couple MGs tracks, including “Hip Hug Her” and “Hang ‘Em High” with freestyle rap vocals. “Melting Pot” built slowly over Gonyea’s chicken-scratch guitar before exploding at the gospel chorus. The 10-minute reading gave the band plenty of time to stretch out and play off each other.
The main set ended with a thunderous “Time is Tight” that opened with organ and bass before the rest of the band kicked down the door. The band scattered after that song, leaving Jones on his organ bench talking to fans and posing for pictures. The musicians reappeared for a spontaneous, powerful roll through Jones’ wonderful, upbeat arrangement of Outkast’s “Hey Ya.”
Knucklehead’s was about three-quarters full of appreciative fans who didn’t hesitate to jump to their feet and crowd the dance floor. “Green Onions” drew a big crowd in front of the stage early, and nearly everyone was on their feet for the second half of the show. It had been a long time since Jones last played Kansas City, and everyone in the house – musicians included – were graciously patient and willing to make sure the evening turned out all right. The ultimately spectacular evening was well worth the wait.
Setlist: Pound It Out, She Breaks, Warped Sister, Green Onions, Born Under A Bad Sign, Hold On, I’m Comin’, Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, Potato Hole, Hip Hug Her, New York Native, Melting Pot, Hang ‘Em High, Time Is Tight, (encore) Hey Ya