Bettye LaVette & The Big Sound at the Toronto Star Stage - June 23rd, 2012

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. That’s what came to mind as Bettye LaVette, age 66, danced across the Toronto Star Stage and belted out stories of her trials and tribulations on her way to (rock) stardom.

Songs included covers of George Jones, Dolly Parton, George Harrison and Diana Ross. One of the highlights of the night was her rendition of Paul McCartney’s "Blackbird", “sung by the black bird herself,” she joked. The song was re-harmonized into a simpler, soulful ballad, accompanied by soft synthesizer and guitar arpeggios.

The piece was set in contrast to the rest of the night, throughout which Bettye sang and growled in equal proportion, and boasted an unabashed enjoyment of a success that she feels was a long time coming. And if that were not enough, her fierce, hip shaking duo dance with guitarist Brett Lucas reassured us that this queen of soul hasn’t lost her sass.

Though I felt the sound crew could have stood to turn down the reverb, Lavette was in top form. Her black and silver outfit, while allowing her to show off her sexy, party-girl personality, was very classy. Many of those seated in the front rows were loyal fans that thought she looked and sounded better than ever.

They were not to be disappointed by how personally and affectionately Bettye addressed her audience, either. “I have so many things to tell you since I last saw you,” she laughed. Those things included news of the September release of her latest album, Thankful N Thoughtful, as well as a novel chronicling her life story, A Woman Like Me.

By the end of the night, she had the crowd gathered at her feet, leaning on the stage as they soaked up an a cappella Sinead O’Connor cover, recounting all the things Bettye has learned, and how she now has everything she’s ever wanted. She gracefully thanked her band (Brett Lucas – guitar, Chuck Bartels – bass, Daryll Pierce – drums and Alan Hill – keyboards/musical director) before heading offstage to meet a wealth of meet-and-greet hopefuls.

Opening act The Big Sound boasted a line-up of 26 members, including eight vocalists, many of whom are familiar faces to local music lovers.

The band’s repertoire was perfect for Bettye’s audience. They performed a host of Motown hits, including The Temptations’ "My Girl "and The Jackson 5’s "Back In Your Heart", that got the crowd dancing and singing along.

Though the energy was great, the loss of the wire music stands, the establishment of a uniform (at least for the rhythm section), and some simple choreography for the back-up vocalists could have boosted the band’s look from university conglomerate to professional cover band.

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