There's no denying the sheer entertainment value of a Charles Bradley show.
You put a mid-60s soul man in front of a rock-solid seven-piece band adept at recreating the classic soul grooves of the STAX and Motown records of yore, and you're off to a good start. Give that frontman some charmingly silly dance moves--complete with pelvic thrusts, robot twists and James Brown-style collapses to the floor--and you're pretty much guaranteed a memorable live show that will be more entrancing than most live music experiences in these twerk-heavy times.
That said, after seeing Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires headline a sold-out show at The State Room Wednesday night, I don't think you could argue that Bradley and Co. are blazing any new musical trails. Rather, they are a stirring reminder to music fans of how great things once were, when live horn sections were the rule rather than the exception, and a funky groove and energetic frontman were far more important to a band's success than a slick video or vibrant Web marketing campaign.
I, for one, welcome that reminder. The more people that get to experience a Charles Bradley show, the better. The man has charisma for miles, and a gruff voice full of emotion that serves his retro-soul style well. Filling his show with songs from his two albums, 2011's No Time for Dreaming and this year's Victim of Love, Bradley led his excellent Extraordinaires through a show that clearly thrilled the throngs on hand at the sold-out State Room.
Rarely pausing for long between songs, Bradley and his band barreled through the show-opening "Love Bug Blues" after the musicians had amply warmed up the crowd with a slick display of old-school instrumental soul music that was incredibly easy to dance to.
"Crying in the Chapel" and the scorching social critique of "The World (is Going Up in Flames)" followed quickly, with Bradley shedding his jacket to bump and grind with his microphone stand. The man clearly loves the attention he gets at center stage, teasing audience members with sly glances and dramatic moves designed to elicit immediate responses from the audience.
For the most part, those moves worked. Bradley was a blast to watch work the stage, just as his Extraordinaires delivered a stellar soundtrack to his moves. Songs like "How Long," "You Put the Flame On it," "Hurricane" and "Confusion" helped round out a fine night in the way-back soul machine.
If you're going to take a trip to the past, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better conductor than Bradley.
Here are some shots of the show courtesy of Austen Diamond, and visuals definitely capture the energy of a Charles Bradley show more than I ever could in words. You can find more of Diamond's work at AustenDiamond.com: