Charles Bradley at Fine Line Music Cafe, 2/16/12
Fine Line Music Cafe, Minneapolis
Thursday, February 16, 2012
As the art of live performance sinks into an insipid, shameful state, we need Charles Bradley more than ever before. Much as Adele is an adored commodity, relying on a good voice alone does not make for a breathtaking live show. If it just took some choreography to make the stage a better place, Chris Brown would be the man. No need to dig up James Brown and charge him back to life, though. We've got Mr. Bradley AKA "The original victim of love," AKA "The screaming victim of soul," AKA any other outlandish nickname handed down by his backing band. Together, they always perform like it's their last night on earth.
There were plenty of outlandish and tender moments as Bradley -- stylishly fashioned with a sparkly, pointy-collared shirt unbuttoned to near his navel -- mesmerized most of a well-populated Fine Line on Thursday. With a group of musicians (the Extraordinaires) surrounding him who were young enough to be his grandchildren, the entertainer sweated out a set of vintage soul in his own visceral way. He blew kisses to the crowd, he emphatically repeated "I love YOUUU," he wept, he did his best Karate Kid-era Pat Morita chops through the air, he nodded his afro to the beat, he intentionally threw himself on the floor, he turned his pelvis into a merry-go-round, he lifted the mic stand like a barbell, and then he did it all over again.
There's no one on the planet who can form an "Ooh" from their lips quite like Charles Bradley, and the slow and silky "Lovin' You, Baby" was filled with this magical syllable in a way that could be stretched out for eternity. Passion was the subject matter, but a sincere, love at first sight was what washed over the room. If there's anyone who's ready to fall in love again when he's greeted by adoring fans, it's this man. "Some of you gonna go home and make babies tonight," he told us when he was finished.
Any song in Charles Bradley's hands is immediately a retro-soul force, so it was an unexpected pleasure to hear him -- after a fresh costume change to a shirt and vest with silver angel wings on its back -- lay one into Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." As soon as you lose the song's tasty harmonica line, you're left with a melody that modulates up and down within a range of a couple notes. A singer like Bradley uses this as a pass to explore the notes within the notes, and the hoary, ragged dissonance in his sextagenarian voice.
For what could've gone on for hours, the man and his band played with our hearts, our eyes, and our minds and eventually stripped down to just his magical vest and let his pot belly do some of the talking. The James Brown-conjuring "This Love Ain't Big Enough for the Two of Us" led into a lengthy jam that showed how powerful and lascivious Bradley could be. "Can I get nasty?" he asked, and it began.
With sweat sparkling on his chest, he introduced each member of his band by posing the question, for example, "Do you know what a saxophone is?" and repeating it. Hint: Each instrument in his band is something that'll make you feel good inside in tawdry ways that some of the tittering Minnesotans in the room wanted to keep to themselves. There was no hedging bets by the time he was asking if the crowd knew what an organ was, or when he told lead guitarist Tommy Brenneck to "stick it all the way in." Closing it out with "Golden Rule" seemed like the way to go, although it seems impossible that anyone could do unto Charles Bradley what he did to us.
Personal bias: Was bummed that we didn't get "Why Is it So Hard?" out of this set, and "The World (Is Going Up in Flames)" was without a lot of the wailing punctuation marks found on the album. Did this make for a bad performance? Not at all.
Overheard: "He's gotta go change his blouse again."
Best Dance Move: Charles Bradley knows how to flap his arms in such a way that you truly believe he could take flight at any moment.
By the Way: He hugged as many people as he could when it was all over.
Ode to Mulatu
Heartaches & Pain
No Time for Dreaming
Lovin' You, Baby
Heart of Gold
This Love Ain't Big Enough (For the 2 of Us)
Goodbye My Love