live review

Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley

February 22 2014
James Cabaret, Wellington

Reviewed by Natalie Finnigan
24th February 2014

It's a rare thing these days to come across a performer who has the ability to take you back to another era: an era in which artists had their names bedazzled onto their jackets with no trace of irony, and mid-performance 'sermons' were just a part of the experience.

Charles Bradley is indeed a rarity - the kind of artist that I imagine Kiwi audiences are slightly bewildered by.His band has dubbed him the 'Screaming Eagle of Soul' and his talent justifies this appellation. His voice is just one of those voices that we don't get to hear enough of in this part of the world, and the same could be said of his performance.

He thrust his hips and shook his ass in a manner that was consistent with his background as a James Brown 'replicator' (Bradley hates the term impersonator), and even threw off his jacket at one point to reveal what was quite possibly the worst shirt I have ever seen on a man (Racer-back singlet with long, mesh, glitter sleeves).

The crowd were frequently overcome with laughter, grinning from ear to ear and shaking their heads in disbelief. They were totally delighted by his performance, but you could tell they didn't quite know how to take it. I think on some level Bradley was just having fun with it, aware that he didn't quite have James Brown's agility but determined nonetheless to make a spectacle. He performed a range of his hits, from upbeat funk/soul numbers through to heartfelt ballads which he delivered with characteristic sincerity and bucket-loads of sweat.

It would be easy to write-off the show's production as contrived if you took a single element of it out of context, but taking stock of the overall effect and the way he sings, you can't help but be drawn in by Bradley's charisma. I mean, the guy came into the crowd at the end of his encore and hugged people. It was nice.

I've always tried to ignore the back stories of artists like Bradley. Management and marketers make the most of their bleak childhoods and the seemingly insurmountable tribulations they've endured as if that makes their talent more compelling. In most cases I'd say these are cheap tricks that detract from the abilities of the artist. However, in Bradley's case you can't help but be moved by his humility. He was over 60 by the time his brilliance was appreciated, and he had spent a long time living rough, sitting on a veritable gold-mine of talent.

After he was finally discovered and signed by Daptone Records in 2003, he joined the Menahan Street Band for rehearsals and began writing lyrics on the spot as they played. This partnership culminated in the release of his debut album No Time For Dreaming in 2011, and the band have been working and touring with him ever since.

Bradley's performance will no doubt be one of the highlights of the New Zealand Festival this year, and it's encouraging to see Kiwi audiences embracing larger than life performers like Bradley. It might take us a while to get used to seeing middle aged men shimmy, but I think it will be good for us. We need more glitter, we need more hugs, and we need more soul. I'm not prepared to go so far as to say we need more mesh. I hope Bradley comes back, but I sincerely hope he leaves that shirt at home.

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