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Gig Review: Sunday Service with Lee Fields and The Expressions at the Hollywood Avondale

Sunday Service with Lee Fields and The Expressions at the Hollywood Avondale

Sunday, December 10th 2023

Photographs by Joel Armstrong

Words by Nicholas Lindstrom

Sundays have an uncanny habit of being auspicious. For most of us, Sundays are a day of respite in anticipation of the week ahead. For Christians, Sunday is revered as a day to observe their faith. Although this Sunday lacked any religious aspect, it was a spiritual experience. And it began with a gathering of pious soul fans.

The congregation had begun to form long before I arrived at The Hollywood Avondale. As I rounded the corner onto St George’s Road I was greeted by an agreeable-sized line filing out of the front doors of the venue. Upon entering the main space, I was encouraged by the number of people already seated and gathered in a gentle hum of jovial conversation. This was the Hollywood Avondale as I had never experienced it. The enticing sunlight of the courtyard space offset the dimmed light of the interior. The intersecting streaks of light illuminated the liberal amounts of smoke that floated across the stage. However, my eyes were drawn immediately to a stage full of instruments, The rectangle-shaped framing of The Hollywood stage implied that we were gathered
to experience artistry.

From the wings of the stage emerged the band that was supporting the opening act, Romi Wrights. It was refreshing to see a band full of youth. A youth which was punctuated by the eagerness with which they took up their instruments and proceeded into the opening instrumental number. The first number was met with rapturous applause and followed by the introduction of Romi Wrights. Draped in all black from her platformed loafers to her sunglasses. Wrights' stylistic choices were soon validated by her vocal abilities. The band formed a cogent background for Wrights' bewitching melodies. A particular standout was the track Bring it Back which is available to stream on Spotify. The band’s confidence combined with their youthful enthusiasm left the audience in keen anticipation of what was to come.

I took the opportunity of an intermission to observe the instruments that occupied the stage. The oxidation that stained the saxophone and the frayed edges of the bass guitar alluded to the experience of the musicians that they belonged to. The Expression entered the stage together. All of them were dressed in dark suits with the top button undone. From the start of the first instrumental piece, it was clear that this band’s connection was special. There was such an easy quality to how they performed together, with the band’s musical bond being punctuated by them swaying in unison throughout their set.

Early in his career Lee Fields earned the nickname, “Little J.B” (James Brown). In many ways, Fields' performance has similarities to his predecessor. Fields has the same raspy vocal quality, quickness of feet and mannerisms that mimic those of a pastor in an African-American Church. Despite these similarities I believe it would be unfair to hold Fields to a nickname received in his past. A more apt description would be the one given in Fields' introduction. Lee Fields really is the “Soul of Soul Singers” At the wizened age of 72, Fields is still delivering his performance with a fire that would put some younger artists to shame. From the beginning, his charm and stage presence were of the highest order. He even took the time to claim that we were the “most beautiful crowd we had ever seen” Although I doubt the veracity of that statement, Field’s star power was undeniable. Dressed in a jacket lined with studs and the nicest pair of leather shoes to have graced a stage on
this side of the equator, his performance exceeded any expectation I had. Lee Fields and The Expression performed eleven songs in total. One of the salient moments was Field’s performance of Forever, a track from his album Sentimental Fool. Fields prefaced the song by asking the audience to turn to those special in the crowd and express their love for them during this song. As I stood by the stage with my notebook ready, I felt a hand tug on my shoulder. I found myself enveloped in a circle of people. Despite the circle swaying on the one and three, it felt nice to be included in the connectivity of the crowd, which up until that point I had only had the privilege of observing. The crowd’s enthusiasm for Mr. Fields led to arguably the most harmonious call for an encore I have ever been a part of. Building from the sound of stamping feet to a chant of “We need more soul” the crowd was not disappointed when Fields and The Expressions closed out the night with an emotional rendition of his hit song Honey Dove.

A part of me entered the Hollywood Avondale with the expectation that Fields' performance would have an air of anachronism. I am glad to say that I was totally wrong. Lee Fields and The Expressions performed in a way that was classy without being relegated to the realm of “classic”. The performance was spiritual in the way that it left me feeling fulfilled. As the crowd collectively filtered out of The Hollywood Avondale, there seemed to be a collective agreement that we really had experienced the “Soul of Soul Singers” Although Field’s live performance is incomparable, if you are feeling left out, his entire catalogue of over twenty albums and over fourty singles is still available via streaming services.

Set list:
Don’t Leave Me This Way
You Can Count On Me
I Still Got it
Standing By Your Side
Got To Get Through
What Did I Do
Two Jobs
Money Is King
Faithful Man
Honey Dove