The heartbeat of Hi Records--the Memphis R&B label that thrived in the '70s with such outstanding singers as Al Green and Ann Peebles--was its solid, spirited house rhythm section. So it's ironic that the weak link in the Hi revue/reunion at the House of Blues on Thursday was the lumbering house band.
Largely because of that group, the three-hour-plus evening featuring Peebles and lesser Hi lights Syl Johnson, Don Bryant, Otis Clay, there was perhaps just a half-hour of quality. Most of that came during Peebles' set--a testament to her presence, charisma and the sheer force of her vocal talent. Even the band's flat performance didn't dampen her 1973 classic "I Can't Stand the Rain."
While the backing band did lock into that familiar, simmering Hi groove, highlighted by organ and horn lines, the musicians didn't have a clue about dynamics or any real feel for the music. Blues-style belter Clay was hurt the most by the lame efforts. He put his heart and soul into his vocals, but the overall impact wasn't nearly what it should have been.
The show ended with all the artists piling on stage to sing Green's "Love and Happiness," arguably the best single ever released by Hi Records. Although spirited, it was a musical mess.
But the shortcomings of the band and the show's inescapable lounge-act aura apparently didn't bother most of the audience. Responding to the beat and the gritty charm of the performers, they seemed to be having a high time indeed.