With the buzz that followed the group's celebrated show at Lola last year, it was clear that organizers would need a bigger venue for his return. On Wednesday, the ground floor of 2720 was filled with a tidal wave of people, many seeing the funk 'n' soul dynamo for the first time, me included.
Being out of town for the first round, I had been anticipating the 2013 show for months. Yet I managed to get there late, and Lee Fields and the Expressions had already begun their heavy-hitting set joined by fellow Truth and Soul label artists, Nicole Wray and Terri Walker of Lady. Based on a solid stage presence from Lady, as it lent accompanying vocals for songs that included the dramatic "Wish You Were Here," I was wishing that I had been there for Wray and Walker's opening performance.
But all eyes were on Fields, and I did get there early enough to find him with his flashy silver jacket still on, the sweat not yet pouring down, as he warmed up with the familiar and catchy "I Still Got It." But both the jacket and the gloves soon came off followed by a flurry of nimble shuffles and dance moves (the double spin was a crowd pleaser).
And of course there were plenty of grunts and heart-stopping soul screams that punctuated a consistently entertaining and energized show. Fields seemed so comfortable onstage with his seasoned yet vivacious presence, never letting in a dull moment. He kept the crowd interaction short and to the point as he simply shouted "St. Louuuis!" and "Are you happy?" to encourage cheering fans.
The band members wore dark suits and serious faces, and did not delay from one song to the next as they hit the major bases from their catalogue. Tracks from 2009's "My World" such as "Ladies" and "Money Is King" had the crowd screaming. And nearly all of the tracks from last year's "Faithful Man" made it to the set, including the brilliant rendition of the Rolling Stones' "Moonlight Mile," a song that was reportedly not played last year.
Fields, a North Carolina native, has been making music for decades. He's a front man who embodies the style and sounds of old-school soul through and through. But the younger guys who make up the Expressions -- a Truth and Soul ensemble that features horns, keys, drums and guitars -- have confidence and skill to match. Fans of the albums might be pleased to hear just how consistent the recorded and live versions of the songs are. Yet Fields can inexplicably maintain his powerful wails and moves on stage while sounding great. Credit is also due to those who worked the sound booth at 2720.
Unfortunately for the late-comers like me, the show was a quick one. But there was a 15-minute encore that highlighted the Expressions on their own with an instrumental followed by Lady's vocals on their own. When Lee Fields took the stage, he picked up his eager audience right where he left it, in the palm of his hand.
I felt like the bell had been rung too soon, though there was no doubt that Fields had left everything in the ring. It was a quick victory that showed how a strong head and quick feet, not to mention a massive amount of heart, can keep an unlikely character in the fight.