By Doug Koztoski
There are two kinds of pearls: those made by nature when a grain of sand or some other small particle randomly finds its way into an oyster, clam or other mollusk, and those “cultured” types orchestrated with some similar help from a human pearl farmer. Either way, the result is often a gem. And a gem is just what Booker T. Jones and his band produced in middle October when they christened the Pearl Street Warehouse, one of the new music venues on Washington, D.C.’s revitalized waterfront area known as The Wharf.
Spacious in spots, yet with an overall intimate feel, the Pearl Street Warehouse gives patrons something to see with a balanced presentation of gritty décor and, when a seasoned performer such as Booker T. Jones takes the stage, something for the eyes, ears and soul, as well.
Jones, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member since 1992, started off the evening on the organ with a strong version of the title track from the 1968 Clint Eastwood Western film “Hang ‘Em High.” From that point on, the packed crowd of about 300, some sitting, others standing, whether on the floor near the stage or in the balcony, knew they were in for a treat because even though Jones is in his early 70s, he can still command the stage, both vocally and on whatever instrument he plays.
“Soul Dressing,” the next tune, was the title track from a 1965 album, the second put out by Booker T.& the M.G’s, the band that the Memphis native has fronted off and on for decades. Other songs in the 8-pack first set included “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Potato Hole,” Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” “Hey Joe, “ (where Jones played guitar) and then it was back on the organ for the 1962 mega-hit that he co-wrote while with the M.G’s: “Green Onions.”
Like a pearl taking shape, things take time, and Jones & Co. paced the concert well, much to the delight of the crowd, as they grooved through each song. The only thing that rushed at any point all night was the applause following each composition.
Early in the second set, Jones was again back on the guitar, this time for “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” and then, accompanied by his son Ted on another guitar for a heartfelt rendition of “Purple Rain,” which, when you blended the drizzly weather outside Pearl Street that night along with the Jones’s suit color and some of the neon in the club, seemed like the perfect choice.
Immediately after “Rain,” Jones returned to his seat at the organ and led an extended, bluesy and wordless version of the 1930s George Gershwin tune, “Summertime.” A couple songs later Jones maybe did not go as low as he wanted to go, but he did do “Soul Limbo.”
Jones and his crew worked their way thru the 7-song second set, and seemed to enjoy themselves the entire time, and then wrapped it up with another big hit from the prime of the M.G.’s: 1969’s “Time is Tight.”
But, apparently, time was not quite as tight as first expected since the band came back for an encore and rounded out a nearly two-hour concert with Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” and then, with Jones returning to guitar for the 1967 classic soul ballad by Sam & Dave: “When Something is Wrong with My Baby.”
With that final song Jones convincingly made you think there just in fact might be something wrong with his baby. But one thing is for sure, Jones’ baby might have some issues, but his baby in this case is surely not his music, and for the multi-Grammy Award winner the music world, although not spinning quite as fast for the dapper one as in decades past, is, in many ways, still his oyster.