What Is It Like To See Charles Bradley?

charles bradley

The night is already kicking, thanks to a soundtrack of should be hits from the Daptone label and its subsidiaries. If you’re fortunate, an opening band (say, The Junk Yard Dogs for instance) that knows how to cook primes you up. The seconds tick by as the crowd grows larger and larger, standing room only around the stage.

The Extraordinaires roll out first. Wide eyed and bushy tailed, they look like kids, but one could venture to guess every last one of them could be called an “old soul.” Two man brass section, a drummer, a bassist, a guitar, another guitar, a drummer, a keyboardist. They play a couple of numbers all on their own to set the mood.

Only then does the keyboardist step up to the mic and start hyping The Man You Came To See in the style of M.C.s of yesteryear. “Are you ready to ROCK? Are you ready to ROLL? Are you ready to PARTY?” Everyone who came indeed came to do all 3, but they also came to look cool. Composure is kept.

When the band starts blowing up and Charles Bradley struts out, you know you’re witnessing something. Mr.Bradley looks like he’s going to cry as he looks out over the packed to capacity audience of wide eyes, smiling faces, white people doing white people dances. He starts to move. He starts to groove. He screeches tonally, his voice an astounding instrument of destruction to your mind, connection to your soul, a beat to your heart.

He sings about love, he sings about sex, he sings about God. Sacred and profane, one tune he’s into lust, the next he’s into saving the world. He licks his finger and gyrates, he holds his hands in prayer. He’s sleazy, he’s sanctified, he’s an emotional explosive dynamo. You’ve read about this kind of thing. You’ve heard 50 year old live albums. You thought you missed it all. Turns out, you didn’t.

A couple of hours and costume changes whirl by in a blur of sound and motion. Mr.Bradley’s sweat and tears mix, his majestic, somewhat haphazard afro glistens. He tells the audience that he loves them, and they are his brothers and sisters. He goes to the lip of the stage, shakes hands, kisses hands. The band vamps. Someone gives him a framed portrait of him that they drew.He finally leaps into the audience and goes deep. People swirl around him. The band keeps playing. Strangers embrace.

Finally, the music stops. The show is over. You hope you get a next time. For Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires, it’s just another night. They ride away in their bus.

See Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires on tour. Photo by Shawn Coots.

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