Sarah & I saw the Blind Boys of Alabama perform their annual Christmas show at Davies Symphony Hall in downtown SF yesterday, and it was a blast! We saw their holiday show a couple of years ago at the Masonic Auditorium, and this one was pretty similar.
Unlike the last time, however, they had a surprise opening act – 5 of the quilters of Gee’s Bend (who have a show of their quilts running through the end of the year at the DeYoung Museum) performed a few a capela gospel songs!
The Boys performed some holiday tunes as well as some secular ones from their recent series of Grammy-winning albums. I never tire of hearing their version of “Amazing Grace,” set to the tune of “the House of the Rising Sun,” and they sang it very well indeed this time. My other favorites were “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and their excellent cover of Tom Waits’ “Down In The Hole.” “Spirit In The Sky,” apparently from their newest album, which I’ve not yet heard, was another winner, as well as the transcendent Ben Harper number “There Will Be A Light.”
They ended the set with their usual revival-style extended jam, this time on “I’m A Soldier.” While the rest of the band riffed, Jimmy Carter came off-stage and walked through the audience (not that we could see much from our nose-bleed seats, but he’s done this the other two times I’ve seen them too). While a fun twist, this jam often goes on a little bit too long for my taste, and with everyone standing, I either have to stand, or look at someone’s behind.
There were some sound issues at the start of the set, with the guitars and bass overpowering the vocals, but they were quickly sorted out. In the 3 times I’ve seen the Blind Boys, I never fail to be amazed at their energy. Front-man Jimmy Carter is still hopping and swinging and exhorting the crowd to get up and clap. Bishop Billy Bowers, the youngest by far of the three primary singers, has an excellent voice and energy too. Leader Clarence Fountain was more subdued, mostly sitting in a chair and not singing in every song. The guitar/bass section is talented to boot, especially lead guitarist Joey Williams.
If you haven’t seen the Blind Boys of Alabama live, I highly recommend doing so at least once as they have a unique energy and are superb singers (not to mention they have the only blind drummer I know of!).