Isaac Hayes, Forum, London

Forum, London

Even by the giddy standards of soul icons, Isaac Hayes's life has been remarkable. First, Tennessee poverty led to a stint as a songwriter and session player. Then came an enormously successful solo period, interspersed with acting, Scientology, mind-boggling bankruptcy ($9m in 1976), prison and a surreal comeback as the voice of Chef in South Park, which spawned 1999's silly number one hit, Chocolate Salty Balls (PS I Love You). If they made it into a film, nobody would believe it.

Five years since his last visit to Britain, 60-year-old Hayes still looks the part. His robes befit an African potentate (he is actually a crowned king in Ghana), his hairless head reflects the mirrorballs above him and his body shows no signs of turning to flab. Hayes and his exemplary 10-piece band embark upon what is effectively a soul symphony, plus a trot through that recent comic chart-topper.

Walk On By, recorded by Hayes in 1969, begins with choral voices, before segueing into screeching Living Colour-style wah-wah guitar and Hayes's funereal keyboards. Six minutes in, his Stygian vocals begin and there is still time for whiplash percussion and drum solos. Dionne Warwick never did it like this, but it remains a spartan, stripped-down affair compared with a swirling, majestically paced I Stand Accused.

Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic might not be one to invoke a chorus singalong, but it remains tight, fluid and genuinely funky. Then the O'Jays' I Love Music and Jesse Stone's Don't Let Go are demolished and rebuilt. Hayes doesn't say much, but his grasp of what makes a spectacle is so firm that talk is superfluous.

And then there is Theme from Shaft. From its opening cymbal rattle, it is clearly going to be life-enhancing. Hayes spends the early sections as a demented conductor, throwing out karate kicks, running on the spot and mopping his dome. Then he turns to face the crowd, barks out the verse and lets them holler "Shaft!" at the appropriate moments. Before the applause, there's an audible gasp of delight, the recognition of having witnessed something special. This is how live music should be.


John Aizlewood

The GuardianTramp

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