Aaron Neville is an interpreter of song. Effortlessly, he takes into his own hands songs from an array of genres and imprints them with his inimitable vocal fashion.
Friday night, before a crowd of about 600 in the Folly Theater, he and his five-piece band spent two hours revisiting more than two dozen songs drawn from several styles: pop, doo-wop, soul, country, reggae, R and gospel, delivering a performance that was as much a tribute to some of the best-known songs of the past 50-plus years as it was a showcase of a voice that can still stir some joy and reverence from a large crowd.
After an overture from his band (saxophonist Charles Neville, drummer Earl Smith Jr., keyboardist Michael Goods, guitarist Eric Struthers and bassist David Johnson), Neville took the stage and delivered a medley of R/soul standards, giving special attention to Sam Cooke: “Stand By Me,” “Cupid,” “There Goes My Baby” and “Chain Gang.” He shifted abruptly after that, to a blue-sky interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” — a rendition so different in mood from the original it took a good minute to recognize it.
For the most part, he and his band of ringers stayed close to the originals, including the R/pop hit “Everybody Plays the Fool,” a trilogy of Bill Withers’ classics (“Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Use Me” and “Lean on Me”), the mash-up of the pop hit “This Magic Moment” with the doo-wop classic “True Love” and Dobie Gray’s hit “Drift Away.”
Neville, 72, gave his band some spotlight, leaving the stage for two instrumental interludes that provided a change of pace and featured his older brother on sax. He gave the show a gospel/spiritual flavor several times with his deft interpretations of songs like “Mary, Don’t You Weep,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “Ave Maria” and “Amazing Grace,” one of his encores. If he delivers one style more emotively than the others, it would be gospel. At least it was this evening.
The crowd gave him heavy ovations all night, including a couple of standing ovations. Some of his fans who couldn’t sit stll retreated to the back of the theater, where dancing was permitted. There was a lot of that during the mash-up of the reggae classics “Three Little Birds” and “Stir It Up.”
He ended his set with one of his best-known songs and one he still delivers tenderly, “Tell It Like It Is.” After he and the band took their bows, his drummer, Smith, stirred the crowd into chanting “one more song.” He indulged them with three more, including the closer, a lovely version of the theme to “The Mickey Mouse Club,” done in a fusion of styles, but one you could call Neville’s alone.Set list
Stand By Me/Cupid/There Goes My Baby/Chain Gang; Bird on a Wire; Everybody Plays the Fool; I Don’t Know Much; Don’t Go, Please Stay; My True Story; This Magic Moment/True Love; Forever My Darling; Ain’t No Sunshine; Use Me; Lean on Me; Three Little Birds/Stir It Up; Drift Away; Ting-A-Ling; Fever; A Change is Gonna Come; Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep; Jesus Loves Me; Ave Maria; The Grand Tour; Why Should I Be Lonely; Boney Maroney; Work With Me, Annie; Tell It Like It Is; Amazing Grace; Good Night, My Love; Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Theme.