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Review: Richie Havens' historic chops still strong

Review: Richie Havens' historic chops still strong

Richie Havens wants everyone to know: “We are all related.” He repeated this mantra at just about ev

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For Gazette music writer Brian McElhiney's preview of this show, click here.

Richie Havens wants everyone to know: “We are all related.” He repeated this mantra at just about every turn during his two-hour performance at The Eighth Step Saturday night. For the assembled crowd, which filled Proctors’ GE Theatre to capacity, this half-sung chant set the mood for a cathartic evening celebrating folk’s history, and its future.

With a lead guitar accompaniment, Havens commanded the stage from the minute he stepped out, his guitar strapped to his chest and wearing a flowing silver robe. His soft, hypnotic voice set a hushed tone as the audience sat in reverence, hanging on his every word.

Those words, at times, were a bit difficult to piece together into a larger picture. A mid-set story Havens told about playing stickball in his youth meandered for close to 10 minutes, never really resolving until Havens finally launched into a medley of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” and The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” one of the evening’s strongest moments.

But stage banter isn’t the main reason to see Havens. His draw is all in his husky voice and spirited interpretations of songs, whether they’re his or the songs of friends. Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” got things off on the right foot, segueing nicely into “If I” from 2008’s “Nobody Left to Crown.”

“Way Down Deep” was another early highlight, the contemplative lyrics bristling against the song’s staccato pulse.

The gentle “One More Day” most fully captured the immense range that Havens’ vocals can command, with the song barely moving above a hushed whisper. Conversely, “3:10 to Yuma” brought the house down with its chugging rhythm and Havens’ usual impassioned performance.

Havens saved the best for last, however, with a three-song finishing salvo that couldn’t be topped (he must have known it, too, as there was no encore). Starting with George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” continuing with “Say it isn’t So” and climaxing with the legendary “Freedom,” Havens kept building his performance into a massive crescendo. By the end of the show he had risen to his feet, continuing to strum his guitar as he held it aloft, as the crowd clapped him on.

Mustard’s Retreat opened the show before an already full house shortly after 7:30 p.m.

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