Charles Bradley: Soul, man. Live review of Charles Bradley’s show at Cats Cradle, Carboro N.C 4/ 9/ 12
Photos by Grant Britt
Carrboro N.C. 4/ 09/ 12
By Grant Britt
The crowd may have come out to see the Budos band at the Cats Cradle Monday night, but when opening act Charles Bradley took the stage, he took the audience as well. The young crowd seemed mesmerized by Bradley, pressing close to the stage, mouths open and fists pumping as Bradley trotted out a big bag of James Brown shtick as well as some funky, sweaty soul of his own.
Bradley doesn’t mess around. Just a few bars into his opener, “Heartaches and Pain,” he’s doing knee drops at the mike just like James Brown used to do during his live soul sessions. Although most here look too young to have ever seen Brown live, this crowd eats it up, reacting like it’s their first taste of in-your-face soul by an old school showman who can scream like a scalded panther. Some seem confused as to what to do, caught up in the emotion of the moment and the material, wanting to do something but unsure how to move to this music. Some settle for pumping a fist out of rhythm, while some just writhe in place, transfixed by the soul backsplash washing over them. Bradley works it hard, scraping that JB scream out of some deep recess and letting it go like a whip crack to your ear drums, instant deafness if you’re standing within twenty feet of the speakers.
He’s backed by a young white band, many of whom look like they just started shaving last week. But they must have poured over the Stax Records archives, studied the horn charts for Otis Redding / Sam and Dave Sessions, ‘cause they’ve got the sound down.
Bradley looks consumed by the music, pouring out soul and sweat by the bucketful. Its gut-shot soul, the pain showing in his voice and on his face as he relates the troubles a man can stumble into just trying to get along with his fellow man or his woman.
After running through a handful of his tunes from his latest release on the Daptone label, No Time For Dreamin, including “Why Is It So Hard,” a grittier take on James Brown’s “Living In America,” Bradley launches a great version of “Slip Away, the song Clarence Carter was known for and should be remembered for before he did the porn classic “Strokin’ making him wealthy but smeared with a sleazy vibe that never washed off. Bradley plays it straight- no JB screams, just sweaty, gravely soul groans from the groin.
He finishes with a Otis Redding syllable stretching “got ta- got ta” outburst, then leaves the stage after a mere twenty minutes. The crowd seems stunned, looking around nervously as the band keeps playing, segueing into some ‘70s Philly soul. But Bradley isn’t through, popping back out after a re-introduction, obviously refreshed, perhaps after gargling something backstage to soothe a throat that must be ravaged by all that gravel-clotted screaming.
The 64-year-old Bradley, who looks like Sam Moore of Sam and Dave and sounds like a blend of Wilson Pickett and Brown, tears into a version of “Heart of Gold that’d make Neil Young commit suicide. Bradley’s version is a soul man’s quest for true love, an impassioned gravelly plea for a heart savior before he gets too old.
Bradley accompanies his soulful screams with an odd assortment of moves that look like they were put together from watching Soul Train. He’ll do a second or two of a JB shuffle before launching into a jerky Robot, then just stand flat-footed center stage thrusting his pelvis like a leg-humpin’ dog. He has said he closes his eyes when he sings because he doesn’t want anyone to see the hurt he’s feeling inside, so maybe what we’re seeing is just his demons trying to escape. Whatever the cause, coupled with his heartbroken, gut wrenching vocals, it makes for a show you won’t soon forget.
After a long version of “Lovin’ You Baby” that has Bradley down on his knees screaming his lungs out, he closes his set with “Golden Rule,” sounding like the jumpsuit clad JB of the ‘80s. “I love you too,” he shouts out to some impassioned female fans who are tearily screaming his name like teenie boppers after a pop idol. Then he hops off stage into the crowd, and it’s over. The band stops playing and the lights come up, and Bradley is still in the middle of the audience passing out sweaty hugs to everyone around him as he slowly works his way back to the dressing room, a big smile creasing his face. Soul is back, and with Charles Bradley at the helm, it’s gonna be as big and bad as ever.