Lee Fields Brings Hot, Sweet Soul to Vancouver

There isn’t much I like better than kicking off a new month by seeing a show I’ve been dying to see for months, on a weekend night. It helps kick things off on a high note and wipe away my unjustifiable, slothful lack of production and excessive-partying guilt (and resulting debt) of the previous month. The more positive the music, the better.

You can’t get better vibes from the soul food that was being served up at Fortune Sound Club last Saturday – Vancouver’s own raucous soul-garage-gospel gems, The Ballantynes, opening for none other than living soul legend and his electric band, Lee Fields & The Expressions, who recently released Faithful Man, an album that is sure to grace many Best Of 2012 lists.

The seven-piece (!) Ballantynes took to the stage, gave each other some “You good? Let’s go,” looks, and got right to doing what their first song announced – “blow ‘em away”. “The Message” gives you a good sense of what this raucous, good-time group is all about – after an initial, three-second ringing chord, the train takes off and all seven cogs click along in jangling unison as conductor/madman Jarrod Odell lovingly hammers his Hammond, yelling out “Hey, I got a message!”, a heralding call echoed by his sultry soul sisters, Jennifer Wilks and Vanessa Dandurand.

Whether you’re following Odell’s dramatic performance or just can’t break from Dandurand’s Medusa-hot gaze, it’s nigh impossible to look away from The Ballantynes. Max Sample’s bopping bass rides the clickity-clack tracks laid down by the double drums of Trevor Racz and Michael “Mr. Nice Guy” McDiarmid, as Corey Poluk’s sharp, reverbed, borderline-surfer guitar cuts through it all. This merry band gives its all on stage and, most of all, have fun, which is obvious in the sweat, smiles and soul on display.

I’ve never heard “M-I-S-E-R-Y” being called and answered with such happiness. “No Love”, “You Don’t Know” (which they debuted on Saturday), “Goodbye Baby”… there’s no point trying to identify highlights in their set. It all feels good, it all feels new, and damn is it fun! If you didn’t get the message a couple paragraphs ago, here it is again – give them a spin. Also, do not miss them at The Electric Owl on September 22. It would be criminal.

As if Fortune wasn’t full enough already, by the time Lee Fields took to the stage, the place was certifiably jam-packed; people jockeying for position almost all the way to the back wall, lines for the bar merging confusedly with the crowd, lucky ducks sitting on top of the side booths with their enviable vantage points. The Expressions eased us in with a mood-setting instrumental intro, which served as precursor to Lee Fields’ long-awaited appearance and his jump into “Two Timer”. “It’s so good to be here, Vancouver! Let’s get this party started!” The man’s will to have a good time and put on a killer show was palpable.

Be it the simmered-in-soul laments of “Still Hanging On” (“I’m not over you yet / You’re in my head and I can’t forget,”), the sexy, sweet nothings in “Ladies” (“Ladies / Lovely ladies / Beautiful ladies / You’re so fine, so fine,”) or the confident assurances of “I Still Got It” (“Take my hat, my shoes, my girl / I still got it,”), the way Lee Fields sings his words are just as, if not more important than the words themselves. Despite the man’s small stature and his more than six decades of living, the power and feeling he emanates are enormous, undeniable.

“I was up here, tryin’ to be cool, with this hot-ass jacket on,” he joked before tossing his jacket after the first handful of songs. He couldn’t have been more bang-on with his hot/cool wordplay, because the Fortune was steaming by mid-set, with an inordinate number of hot foxes and cool cats getting their groove on all over the place.

Every song, most of which were off Faithful Man and 2009’s My World, hit the bull’s eye – “Wish You Were Here”, “Love Comes And Goes”, “Honey Dove”, the fantastic back-to-back smack-in-the-heart that was “You’re the Kind of Girl” and “Faithful Man”… it was all gold.

Thank you, Lee, for kicking off September 2012 in style. Much love and respect. Until next time.