Charles Bradley, Hi Fi, March 10
It's tempting to make this review one of those pretentious one line posts:
Wow … untoppable. Lost for words.
While that may accurately capture my mood as I stumbled up from the Hi Fi in the early hours of Sunday morning, it would disrespect Charles Bradley’s energy, talent and sincerity.
He may be 63, but the Screaming Eagle of Soul didn’t slow once through a show that exceeded two hours. With moves from Elvis’s jumpsuit era, Bradley reaffirmed the pleasure of watching someone put on a show. Sure those shoe-gazing lo-fi bands might capture your teenage ennui, but they don’t really entertain, do they? Bradley did that in spades, delivering a powerhouse soul show that lessened my disappointment at never having seen James Brown, Marvin Gaye or Otis Redding play live. That may seem excessive, but across this two hour show, he kept a packed Hi Fi captivated with his dynamic vocals and mastery of stage craft.
On tracks like ‘How Long’, he shows that a life of manual labour and aimless drifting have crafted a voice cracked in emotion but rich with raw power, often delivered while laying prostrate with desperation on the stage.
But an eagle can’t soar without a firm launching pad. And that’s what his band – calling themselves the International Extraordinaires – provided. Starting with the long instrumental lead-in traditional in soul shows, the Extraordinaires are a tight outfit who know when to let their frontman dominate, and when to bring the power.
After a quick change into a black sequinned jump suit, Bradley returned for the second half of the show with a quick demonstration of the robot. That led into a horn-drenched cover of Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’, before returning to tracks from his debut LP No Time for Dreaming.
Bradley has an amazing life story, having bounced around the States from one dead-end job to another before being spotted by a Daptones Records exec while performing as a James Brown impersonator. Now here he his touring Australia (playing almost nightly, too), being feted at every turn. Through the show, his gratitude and almost disbelief at the new direction of his life was palpable through the gig, not least when he jumped into the crowd at the end (pre-encore) and proceeded to hug most of the front row.
The encore featured a heartfelt rendition of ‘To Make It in America’. As he sung the repeated refrain “Why is it so hard to make it in America?”, his voice saturated with the emotion that only comes with decades of desperation, we could only be grateful that this man had made it.
: Finn Bradshaw