The mission, as Mavis Staples saw it, was simple.
“We’ve come all the way here to bring you some joy and some positive vibrations,” said the 75-year-old Chicago native. “We want to leave you with enough to last you.”
The crowd gathered before her Thursday night at the Majestic Theatre was only too happy to soak up the good feeling, something Staples and her six-piece backing band provided in abundance during her roughly 75-minute set. (Surprisingly and maddeningly, the room was far from packed — what is wrong with Dallas that a double bill of Patty Griffin and Mavis Staples can’t fill a place to its walls?)
Given the night’s focus — the third annual “Encore for Advocacy” benefit, helping raise funds for Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center’s music therapy program — plenty of goodwill was already on hand, but Staples and her vibrant performance only intensified the feeling.
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Equal parts gospel piety and juke-joint fire, Staples strolled about the stage, shaking and singing, burrowing into the marrow of classic cuts like Respect Yourself, We’re Gonna Make It, Freedom Highway, and, of course, I’ll Take You There.
In full voice — that lustrous, gritty, knee-weakening alto — Staples held sway throughout, although she wasn’t shy about sharing the spotlight: a 10-minute instrumental interlude allowed guitarist Rick Holmstrom and bassist/guitarist Jeff Holmes to trade scorching blues licks, egging each other on as Staples rested in the wings.
That Staples delivered such a robust performance would have been more than enough, but the night carried an extra special charge thanks to Staples’ opening act, singer-songwriter Patty Griffin.
Professing to be “probably one of Mavis Staples’ biggest fans,” Griffin, joined by David Pulkingham, Craig Ross and Billy Harvey, turned in a brooding, poignant, hour-long set, heavy on raw-nerved material. Flaming Red throbbed like a fresh scrape, while Heavenly Day and Go Wherever You Wanna Go provided healing salve.
Griffin even showcased a mesmerizing new tune, titled Mando Song 1, from the record she said she hopes to being working on this winter. It was a bruised, elegiac work, given haunting texture by Pulkingham’s tasteful guitar.
She concluded with Up to the Mountain (MLK Song), the nearest thing to a hymn Griffin’s ever written, and as she wrapped her exquisite voice around the climactic chorus, it did almost feel as the grand Majestic space was positively vibrating.