Brooklyn based soul-man Charles Bradley lit up many Vancouver hearts last night at the city’s fabulous Commodore Ballroom. An unlikely musical hero, Charles Bradley has achieved considerable prominence during his tenure at Daptone Records, champions of retro styled soul and home of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. A fiercely passionate personality, Bradley only just found fame and success in recent years; his heavy James Brown influence is a result of years’ playing in unknown cover bands around Brooklyn, New York before getting picked up by Daptone.
In a manner befitting big bands and blues greats of the past, Bradley’s backing band, the Extraordinaries, got the crowd moving with a pair of bouncing and flowing instrumentals, “Tony Danza” and “Revelation.” Exceptionally tight in their performance, the well-honed six-piece group, consisting of guitar, bass, drums, Leslie-speaker organ and a two piece horn section, readily showed off their chops. Without Charles, the Extraordinaries play with a faster tempo and an adventurous dynamic; it was clear by the glowing smiles on the musicians faces that Charles Bradley’s band does not have a morale problem. The persistent and subtle meandering bass had a dreamy aspect in its execution; the band’s tasteful instrumental arrangements allowed each and every instrument to be heard with clarity and distinction.
After their opening suite, the Extraordinaries introduced Mr. Bradley with pomp and ceremony befitting of B.B. King. Clad in a sparkling, patterned jumpsuit, Charles stood centre stage and drank up the energy of a buzzing, sold out audience. The passion of the by-chance soul hero provoked an intense, joyous experience with his Vancouver listeners with the gushing emotion of “How Long.” A powerful song to say the least, Bradley’s subject matter has grown sunnier over the past half decade of success. Often pushing a brand of shining, religious-like optimism, Bradley likes to sing about greater love. His themes are universal in outreach; his songs are relatable through their intense emotional tones. At least half a dozen songs played had “love” in their name. It might just be his favourite subject.
While a handful of Bradley’s songs seem obvious modern soul classics, many of his compositions lean on his exemplary backing group and his intoxicating stage presence rather than compositional strength.. Though Charles and his band performed with unabashed enthusiasm throughout the night, the dynamics of the evening felt relatively static. A mid-set instrumental break by the extraordinaries gave Bradley a few minutes to rest offstage and change into another glaringly bright and outlandish stage-suit before launching back into his passionate, mid-tempo’d soul. “In You” and “Ain’t It A Sin” from the recently released Changes were highlights at the end of the set. Charles did slow things down a little on his latest record’s title track, a cover of the Black Sabbath ballad. An unlikely cover, Bradley‘s version injects dramatic sincerity into the less compelling original.
Bradley & his Extraordinaries played a 75 minute set which was capped off with a single song encore. Addressing his loving audience, Charles began an impersonated rendition of “Why is it so Hard?” Bradley placed extra emphasis into his voice on the opening line “Why is it so hard/ to make it in America.” Onstage, he appears to be in pure bliss. While speaking to the audience, Bradley was presented with a dozen black and red roses; he pointed out that all people have red blood as red as roses running through our veins as he implored his audience for acceptance of all peoples, regardless of religion or colour. He then stepped down from the stage onto the floor, where the 67 year old soul-singer hugged those nearest the stage-front and distributed the flowers to his idolizing fans. “Save a special thought for the black rose,” he said. Change has been kind to Charles Bradley.
Need More soul? Charles Bradley & the Extraordinaries will return to BC for the 2016 RIFFLANDIA Festival in Victoria, September 15–18th.