That Solomon Burke played a Tom Waits song and Credence's Proud Mary in his Barbican set last Thursday would have easily been enough to satisfy me but being in the court of the King of Rock and Soul for nearly two hours was a joyous experience throughout.
The 68-year-old legend is now so large that he had to be wheeled on stage before settling into his throne. The first time I saw Burke in 2002, again at the Barbican, I told friends afterwards that he reminded me of Jabba the Hutt; not because of anything grotesque but that for such a large, immovable mass, Burke has amazing presence. The gesticulating, gesturing and gyrating of his upper torso more than compensate for the fact that there's nothing going on below his waist. Well, not 'nothing', after all, this is a man with 21 children and 89 grandchildren.
Dressed in an enormous silver suit and with a ten-piece band that included horn section, a blind organist and his youngest daughter and one of his granddaughters as backing singers behind him, Burke mercifully dispatched the title track of his new album, Eric Clapton's Like A Fire, early on before moving on to songs from his recent albums and a clutch of R&B and rock'n'roll standards.
The Guardian's two-star review dismissed Burke's tribute to fallen soul legends and his distribution of dozens of red roses to ladies in the audience as "cheesy". Contrived as it may sound it was pure entertainment. What the Guardian's reviewer also failed to mention is just how wonderful Burke's voice still sounds. His show may look ridiculous to some but he still deserves to wear the crown. As Tom Waits has said, "Solomon Burke is one of the architects of American music" and he continues to prove it.
If you know little about him, some background reading is recommended. His is one of showbusinesses' most colourful lives. The Independent's recent interview gives you a taster but I'd also suggest Peter Guralnick's book Sweet Soul Music. I'd not really heard of Solomon Burke until I saw Guralnick do a Q&A about this book. It was his enthusiasm for Burke that led me to the King.
Tom Waits Covers #1: Solomon Burke - Diamond In Your Mind