Lois and I love a cappella. We love harmony in all forms and it doesn’t get purer than a cappella. When we each saw that The Persuasions were performing at BB King (we both get the weekly email newsletter) we were interested in going (we’ve never seen them).
A friend of ours was vacationing up the East Coast, and told us that he would likely have some time to hang with us when he spent a couple of days in NYC. He called Wednesday night and we asked him whether he would be interested in seeing The Persuasions. Indeed he was.
The group was formed in 1962 and released their first studio album in 1970. Two of the original members are still performing with the group! One of them is Jimmy Hayes, who sings the deep bass parts. He’s absolutely amazing. Both Lois and I couldn’t wait to praise him to each other when we hit the street.
When all five of them sing together, the sound is incredibly rich, whether they are singing the words together (normal harmony), or whether some or all of them are mimicking instruments or doo wop sounds.
Going for the music alone would be worth it. Fortunately, that’s not the only reason to go, though we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
I would guess that the majority of the audience were giant The Persuasions fans, having seen them perform before (likely many times for a good proportion of the crowd). Aside from being adoring fans (in the best sense), they knew the individual performers, and the group knew many audience members as well.
The Persuasions don’t just perform, they entertain! On at least a third of the numbers one of the members of the group ventures into the audience (usually the other original member, “Sweet” Joe Russell, but both Raymond Sanders and Jayotis Washington did as well). The song becomes highly interactive at that point, with great unpredictability.
Dave Revels sang slightly more leads than the rest and did a wonderful job throughout the set.
At times, Joe (or the others) will simply sing to a member of the audience (often acting out the lyrics). Just as often, they will hand the microphone to someone and get them to sing (often the lead!). No one was bad, but a few were pretty darn good, with two people singing like real professionals!
In one awkward moment (awkward for me, because I’m a complete geek!), Joe was singing to a woman. They each had an arm around the other. The woman was in heaven, and she handed her iPhone to her husband and asked him to take a photo. Even though Joe held the pose while he sang to the woman for nearly two minutes (that’s an eternity folks!), the husband couldn’t figure out how to snap a photo on the iPhone. He was aiming the LCD screen at them, and was nearly as frustrated as his wife. He did not get the photo. 🙁
The Persuasions perform a wide variety of music. Hearing oldies from my childhood brought rushes of wonderful memories back in an instant. Seeing the beaming faces of the other audience members (all ages!) turned those memories into a shared experience, making it more special than simply tuning into an oldies radio station.
Here’s the set list, so you can get a sense of the breadth and see how many of your old favorites are there:
The one song you won’t see on there is what they performed during the encore (yes, they were forced to come back out for an encore), In the Still of the Night. Saying that they performed it is a bit of a misnomer. They actually participated in the performance, which was dominated by the audience.
They invited anyone in the audience who wanted to sing it with them on stage to come on up. Amazingly, roughly 20 people went up.
Jayotis Washington came into the crowd and asked people whether they knew the song (the intro was already being doo wop’ed on stage), and I was one of the people he stopped in front of!
I said no (even though I knew it well), because I had no intention of singing into the microphone. The guy at the table next to me (a huge fan and friend of the band) accepted, and sang the lead for a good part of the song. He was incredible (one of the two I mentioned above). The entire song was quite a spectacle (in the best sense of the word).
After it was over, Lois went on stage to get the set list. When I looked up, she was hugging each member of The Persuasions. I looked away for a second, then looked back. The stage was empty. Lois disappeared behind the stage with them. I told our friend that I would likely be forced to wait 24 hours before calling her in as a missing person. 😉
She came back out without the set list itself, but with the photo (shown above), and some more memories. 🙂
On to the food. BB King is comfort food and it’s always really good. Last March (2009) we were there for a Jerry Jeff Walker show, and our god-son-in-law ordered the Mac & Cheese. It’s so rich he couldn’t finish it and the rest of us all dug in and were blown away. Last night I ordered it for myself for the first time. Just as good. Thanks Chris, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t know what I was missing! 🙂
When we were watching the coming attractions our friend told us that we shouldn’t miss The Toasters, who will be at BB King on October 29th. Here’s hoping he can make it back to NYC to join us for that show as well!