Tonight the atmosphere at the Pavilion is electric. Lee Fields and his band, the Expressions, are due to take the stage, and it is so packed it’s difficult to find a place to stand. It’s wonderful to see such a reception for this prolific soul artist. The heat in the venue is almost overwhelming as Fields gets off to a blistering start. Despite the soaring temperature and his seniority, he exudes relentless energy. It’s also quite fitting that his band are called ‘the Expressions’ as each note conveys such feeling.
Anyone that’s close enough to the witness the look on Fields’ face tonight, can see how it seems he almost feels every beat, chord, key-change and certainly every lyric. On a technical point, the set-up is quite awe-inspiring. His band is compiled of a saxophone, trumpet player and drummer with a stripped down drum kit. The pianist plays a Wurlitzer and the bassist uses a vintage Ampeg amp while the guitarist uses a Cry Baby pedal for that extra added funk. As appealing as all that is, the eyes are always on Fields as his showmanship is enthralling.
Throughout the show, Fields continuously engages the crowd with a warmth and almost brutal honesty. At one stage he stops and says: “I’m up here trying to be cool … how can you be cool when it’s so damn hot?” It is so packed here, it’s sweltering, and how he’s performing with such intensity is slightly amazing. He launches into a slower number ‘Wish You Were Here’ which he dedicates to his father and to anyone who may have lost someone close.
Fields is unremittingly positive throughout the evening, a showman with some moves. As he twists, twirls, thrusts, and throws in comments like “Bring the funk, fellas”, the energy among the crowd only escalates. He goes on to describe spectators as the “Sunshine in his life” – what a charmer – before launching into ‘Sunny’, a stunning track. What’s particularly captivating is how much his band are behind him, they are quite young and yet accomplished; one gets the sense that they’re his number one fans. Watching the rhythm guitarist and bassist sing and bop along to ‘Faithful Man’ is a moment that makes the gig experience all the more joyous.
As the set draws to a close, Fields shakes the hands of those in the front row; one fan reaches out to embrace him. As spectators anxiously await an encore, his saxophonist resurfaces to hype up the crowd. The rest of the Expressions join him and play a solo track, their chance to really shine. The Expressions themselves are second to none as a band, there’s a real feeling of perfectionism about their performance; a professionalism, which they pull off effortlessly. It’s quite inspiring in fact. At last, Fields re-emerges and treats fans to his version of ‘Moonlight Mile’ by the Rolling Stones.
The timeless setting of the Pavilion is perfect, a venue with so much history having even been a cinema in its time, it provides the perfect environment for an artist with such history. His career spans 43 years; starting out on Desco Records, he’s toured with the likes of Kool & the Gang and Darrel Banks. One gets the sense that he’s seen it all. While there may not be anything particularly unique about his own sound, his live show is astounding. Fields has a personality and a way about him that’s truly moving, as he certainly moved the audience at the Pavilion, Cork here tonight; an exhilarating performance.
Main image by Bríd O’Donovan. Read Dave Desmond’s interview with Lee Fields here.