Buddy Guy and Mavis Staples have a lot more in common than being born in the South, ending up in Chicago, landing in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and fruitfully continuing their careers after their chief collaborators have left this Earth.
Guy, 82, a blues guitar god revered by a generation of rockers, and Staples, 79, a gospel soul-stirrer who found success in the mainstream, still record regularly and deliver shows packed with vitality and personality.
Although both Windy City veterans were in good spirits on a cold and windy Sunday at Mystic Lake Casino, Guy’s performance felt familiar while Staples’ did not.
Opening the evening, Staples not only did very little preaching (the gospel-soul legend can be a fiery speaker), she didn’t deliver some of her most famous selections, either. No “I’ll Take You There,” “Respect Yourself” or “Freedom Highway,” classics she recorded with the Staple Singers, led by her late father.
She did dip into the Staples catalog, with “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me),” which rails against war and economic exploitation, and “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend,” a gospel strut that implores with passion, not like the treacly urgings of Diana Ross’ “Reach Out and Touch” (Somebody’s Hand).”
Even without her usual minisermons or biggest hits, Staples came with a message: Things may look bleak in this world, but be positive — we can create change by working together. That was the thrust of “We’re Gonna Make It” with its gospelly uplift and “No Time for Crying,” tunes she recorded in the past decade with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy producing.
“If it keeps on, I’m gonna run for president myself,” she proclaimed during “No Time for Crying” when she briefly got caught up in the blues.
Mighty Mavis transformed Talking Heads’ “Slippery People” into a Dylanesque blues and Funkadelic’s ode to mistrust “Can You Get to That” into a soulful vocal workout.
Less raspy than in recent Twin Cities appearances, her voice was a model of uncompromising conviction. Factor in her infectious smile and irresistible cackle and she was an unstoppable force of positivity.
“It’s just nice to be nice,” she asserted in the briefest of sermonettes near the end of her too-fast 50-minute set. Coming from someone who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and has sung for freedom since the 1960s, it sounded sincere, not sappy.
In his headline set, Guy played it like he always does — heavy on the playful personality and masterful picking. As usual, he seldom performed a song in its entirety, preferring to tease with verbal come-ons or just display his expansive vocabulary on guitar.
Even though he’s one of the most influential and gifted guitarists of the second generation of the blues, he’s become as much a showman as a focused music maker. Guy presented quick impressions of B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and saluted Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker with abbreviated renditions of their best-known songs.
His vocals may be overlooked, but Guy offered a gorgeous if truncated Southern-soul ballad reading of John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain,” which he recorded in 1993.
The generous guitar hero let keyboardist Marty Sammon and guitarist Ric Hall take prominent solos. He even invited Dylan Salfer — a 19-year-old Minnesota guitarist with whom Guy’s musicians had jammed on Saturday — to sit in for a few tunes. “You know anything by the late Junior Wells?” Guy asked, referring to his former blues partner. The kid responded with a confident and tasty slide solo.
Guy gave some rambling lectures during his 90 minutes onstage, commenting at one point that he keeps releasing albums (he just won his eighth Grammy) but no radio stations play his music.
As his set made clear, though, he doesn’t really have a signature song — just a style that has made him a legend.