Live Report: Isaac Hayes - Rolling Stone
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Live Report: Isaac Hayes

Life, New York, December 31, 1997

Shaft or Chef? Although best known for his music on the legendary
Stax label (where he co-wrote such R&B classics as “Soul Man”
and “Hold On, I’m Coming”), and as the hot, buttered soulful voice
behind the “Theme from ‘Shaft,'” it’s strange that Isaac Hayes
would enjoy a career resurgence thanks to an animated TV show. But
by lending his voice to Chef, the seasoned cafeteria cook of Comedy
Central’s “South Park,” Hayes has reached out to a whole
new audience — and a whole new generation.

It makes sense that Hayes would be tapped for the voice of
South Park Elementary’s guru. Able to aptly vocalize Chef’s carnal
fixations and observations in sultry song, it’s a sure bet even the
foul-mouthed kids of South Park would have appreciated the way Hayes tip-toed around the word “motherf—er”
(shut yo’ mouth) in his No. 1 hit 27 years ago. Still, at a New
Year’s Eve show at New York’s Life, Hayes and his 11-piece backing
band served up enough color and animation for any cartoon.

Adorned in sunglasses and a silver-sequinned tuxedo, the Black
Moses of rhythm and soul took the stage as his band revved into
“Don’t Let Go,” with Hayes’ trademark chrome dome and shimmering
jacket visually mirroring the disco ball that floated above the
stage. Building from the hypnotic orchestral swirl of Burt Bacharach’s “Walk on By,” Hayes countered
bedroom ballads with disco confections, easing into the sly “Do
Your Thing,” which found the singer gently recounting a sensuous
credo as a hedonistic mantra: “If you want to make love under the
stars above, love on, love on.”

“It’s cold outside, but let’s think warm,” Hayes said from
behind his keyboard as his band launched into “Summer in the City”
(although the punchy verve with which Hayes’ tight ensemble gave
the cover owed more to Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” than the
white-bread blandness of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s original). Hayes
then assumed a conductor’s pose for his final number, the mostly
instrumental “Theme from ‘Shaft’,” which sprawled out for an amazing
10-plus minutes and featured the songsmith leading the band through
a series of audience-requested vamps.

As the band’s frenzied instrumentation crescendoed in the
background, Hayes stepped off the stage and strolled into the
audience, engulfed in applause and high-fives.

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