William Blake, along with musical director Michael Thomas Murray at the piano and on vocals, Oscar Bautista on guitar, Steve Kelly on drums, Mike Preen on bass, Matthew Polashek on sax and the “Peaches” (Ashley Betton, Shira Elias, and Stephany Mora) on backup, celebrated Etta James at Birdland for a one-night-only engagement on Monday, June 4 at 7pm. From her first #1 hit "The Wallflower (Roll With Me, Henry)" to her quintessential "At Last," this concert gave a glimpse into the career of a legend with a local legend at the mike.
William Blake got a standing ovation for performing 14 of Etta’s greatest hits, while one audience member even cried out, “William, I want to have your baby!” The house was packed and everyone seemed to be super excited about the performance. The backup singers, who were emulating Etta’s “Peaches,” wore black and flowers in their hair to dress up the stage. William related that Etta only had two “Peaches,” but that he decided to have three. These girls complimented Blake very powerfully and sang all harmonies in perfect unison.
For the first part of the show – scattered among the first 4 songs – Blake included voice-overs of Etta herself talking about her career. The audience learned from Etta that she had to forge a letter from her mom to get to go on the road at a young age. She also revealed that she wanted desperately to be as glamorous as possible, and thus, dyed her hair that famous platinum that many recognize as her signature.
Blake has a fantastic, sweet, yet gritty belt that really rocked the songs that he chose. Highlights of the night included “The Wallflower (Roll With Me, Henry),” the sweet ballad, “A Sunday Kind of Love,” “Stop the Wedding” (which included a voiceover of a priest conducting a marriage), “Fool That I Am” (covered by Adele), “Damn Your Eyes,” “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and, of course, “At Last,” which William really made his own. While singing “At Last”, it was noticeable that Blake was not copying Etta, but relaying her spirit to the audience. This rendition was poignant and fresh as sung by this young man.
Blake and his “Peaches” were full of spunk and contagious enthusiasm for the entire set and pleased the audience consistently with his versatile voice, making it obvious that he can master any genre of music that may come his way.