Sunday, January 15, 2006

Years before dispensing advice as the wise Jerome “Chef” McElroy on Comedy Central’s “South Park,” music legend Isaac Hayes was serving up heaping helpings of “Hot Buttered Soul,” the title of his landmark 1969 album. Released in the heyday of extended play cuts when single tracks such as Rare Earth’s cover of the Temptations’ “Get Ready,” Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” or Buddy Miles’ “Down By the River” could be prolonged for what seemed an eternity, Mr. Hayes’ “Soul” topped them all — a 45-minute tour de force that contained just four songs (the shortest — at 5 minutes and 7 seconds — being the hauntingly beautiful yet seldom performed “One Woman”).

On Thursday, he summoned that era in all its glory before a packed house at the Birchmere (sold out weeks in advance at $65 per ticket) with a handful of songs — nine to be exact, including a brief birthday salute to a woman in the audience — throughout his 90-minute set.

“I know you want to hear the songs and I want to play all of them for you,” Mr. Hayes announced when he finally took the stage nearly 30 minutes late.

He didn’t. Crowd pleasers such as “Soulsville,” his rambling, sensual takes on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Never Can Say Goodbye” were MIA.

But the audience of mostly baby boomers hardly seemed to mind. They came to party and Mr. Hayes delivered in grand style, opening with the familiar “Don’t Let Go,” the up-tempo hit that personified the trademark Memphis-based Stax label funk Mr. Hayes helped fuel in the 1960s and ‘70s — first as a writer of such Sam and Dave hits as “Soul Man” and “When Something is Wrong with My Baby” (with collaborator David Porter) and later as a solo performer.

Aided by a stellar sextet and a trio of backing vocalists, the guitar riffs were as fresh as ever, though the familiar horn blasts were replicated by an arsenal of synthesizers. Gone, too, are the billowing smoke machines, skintight pants and chest-baring chain vests of his “Black Moses” past.

Clad in a burgundy satin dashiki — and looking more like a Pentecostal preacher than a pop star — the 63-year-old artist remained mostly sedentary, staying behind his keyboards and limiting his onstage movements to clapping in unison with his band and fans.

Yet his earthy, lush baritone remains as silky smooth as his signature shaved head.

After the initial rush of “Don’t Let Go,” Ike (now touring in support of the just released “Ultimate Isaac Hayes Can You Dig It?”) eased into a more mellow groove with a quintet of love ballads that included his hit cover, the Burt Bacharach-Hal David classic “Walk On By,” “Joy,” “Come Live With Me” (from 1975’s “Chocolate Chip”) the jazzy “Do Your Thing” and “I Stand Accused” — Mr. Hayes’ 1970 lengthy and soulful ode about coveting another man’s fiancee.

To no one’s surprise, Mr. Hayes’ theme from “Shaft,” his Oscar-winning composition from Gordon Parks’ 1971 film of the same name — immediately recognized by the sparkling high-hat cymbal riff, pulsing orchestration and swaggering, boastful lyrics (“They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother … Shut your mouth!”) — brought the evening to an unexpected close.

Frenzied fans begged for an encore. Mr. Hayes didn’t oblige, likely feeling that less was more.

Perhaps he was right. No one, not even Mr. Hayes himself, could follow the theme from “Shaft.” It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

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