Booker T. and the MG’s stopped off in downtown Minneapolis for the first of two nights at the Dakota Restaurant and Jazz Club on their way to the Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth this weekend. The classic instrumental outfit — Booker T. Jones (organ), Steve Cropper (guitar), Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass), and Al Jackson (drums, murdered in 1975) — was the house band of Stax Records and therefore the group that backed Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Albert King and the other great Stax artists at the heart of the sixties soul awakening. (The original group is captured onstage in the rare 1970 video above performing “Time Is Tight” while Creedence Clearwater Revival looks on from the wings.) All four shows were sold out months ago, but thanks to my friends Ned Foster and Laura Tiffany I made it to the first show tonight. Local drummer Gordy Knutson expertly filled in during the first show for Anton Fig, who was late arriving because of the bad weather in New York.
This was no oldies act. These guys tore the house down in an intimate venue with a set that brought their old hits to life with verve and passion. The set opened evocatively with “Serve Somebody” and “Hang ‘Em High” before turning up the intensity with “Summertime,” “Hip Hug-Her,” an uptempo “Green Onions,” a smoldering “Born Under a Bad Sign” (with Booker T. taking a vocal turn), “Behave Yourself,” and a smashing “Time Is Tight.” Cropper stayed onstage after the rest of the band exited to make a simple announcement that applied to the group as a whole: “Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, everybody, the greatest!”
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