Lee Fields is 61 years old. You’d never know it judging by the crowd outside L’Astral in downtown Montreal; Fields’ May concert (part of the Montreal Jazz Festival’s off-season series) drew a full house of mostly 20- and 30-somethings, spirits running high as his energized, expressive brand of old school soul & funk charged the room.
Fields broke out with his first single in 1969, leaving his North Carolina home, where his mother had sparked his love of singing at Sunday services, and heading for NYC at the age of 17. This first record brimmed with the emotional sincerity of Otis Redding and the dynamism of James Brown — two of his musical heroes. He has been working steadily in the music world ever since, save for the soul-starved, disco-dominated 80s, when he dabbled in the real estate business. Fields’ most recent album of instant classics, Faithful Man (his second on Truth & Soul, following 2009′s My World) dropped in March of this year, with a whirlwind tour including Austin’s SXSW, and a mention in Time’s picks for the “12 Amazing Bands You Need to Hear Right Now.”
Accompanied by The Expressions, a young, skilled, dynamic 7-piece band, Fields captivated the animated crowd with a set of true-life songs about love and relationships, a youthful vigorousness that caught like fire, and a powerful, highly emotive voice and delivery. Opening with the playfully romantic “Ladies,” Fields addressed the females in the audience, establishing instantaneous rapport as he asked their names, saying, “I know your man is satisfied…” and extolling the virtues of women:
You’re sugar. You’re spice and everything nice.
A man is incomplete without a lady in his life.
You can take a bad day and make it turn out right.
You can take a blind soul and make him see the light.
You can take a broken heart and make it new again.
“Could Have Been” began as a tender vocal-guitar duet, the whole band coming in to give the tune its anthem-like power as Lee expressed the anguish of a broken heart, wearing his heart on his sleeve:
Could have been our love kept on burning
Could have been a world kept on turning
But instead, I made a big mistake
Now you’re leaving me
Ohh, you’re leaving me
Can’t you see the tears in my eyes?
Girl, you’re tearing me apart
You’re breaking my heart, now
Please, don’t you go baby, oh no no
Fields danced, spun and jumped around the stage with seemingly inexhaustible energy as he delivered “Wish You Were Here” and other infectious tunes, picking choice moments to belt those signature screams that, together with his look and voice, dubbed him Little J.B and Soul Brother No. 2. And though he’s often compared to the legendary James Brown, Fields delivered a very personal, emotional and satisfying set with his own individual style, his own inflections, his own vibe, ending the set with a heartfelt rendition of “Faithful Man,” the title track off his new album. “Lee! Lee! Lee! Lee!” chanted the audience, clapping, whistling and hollering for an encore. “Do you want to hear some more of Lee Fields & The Expressions??” he asked, returning to the stage, and the audience responded with a resounding “Yeah!!!”. Fields closed the night Bobby Hebb’s 60s classic “Sunny,” starting it off as a down-tempo, horn-laced version, getting funkier by the second after the first verse, and building to a frenetic pace that had even the bartenders dancing and clapping behind the bar.
Lee Fields’ time is here. Again. Still. Cop Faithful Man if you haven’t already, and see for yourself.
Words & Photos by Sharonne Cohen