Living in the US, brief speeches about how you can achieve your dreams are ten a penny. Watch any awards ceremony or reality TV show and you’ll hear at least one person talking about how grateful they are to be living the dream to the point where such words have become practically meaningless. They do regain meaning, however, when those words come from a 65-year-old man who was once homeless and is now the star attraction at a packed out Fonda Theatre on a Saturday night in Hollywood.
Daptone Records has formed a reputation for being a revivalist soul label, and Charles Bradley’s individual revival, documented in the film Soul Of America, is the label’s most spectacular success. A recording career that did not begin until after the artist turned sixty has now gathered genuine momentum, culminating in a terrific show in which he looked every inch a star. Backed by a band that was slick and professional in the best possible way, Bradley’s performance featured the kind of lived-in voice that cannot be faked, not to mention some surprisingly fluid dance moves for a man his age.
Charles Bradley and his band rolled through songs from his two albums, the most recent of which was last year’s Victim Of Love. The music may well be a throwback to a bygone era of soul, but it still carries plenty enough juice to make the evening much more than a nostalgia fest. Songs such as the seductive “Strictly Reserved For You” showed off Bradley’s open-hearted side, and it is rare to see a performer who has so much unreserved love for his audience. On the other hand, “Why Is It So Hard?” displayed a more impassioned and socially conscious side. Considering Bradley’s life experience, nobody is going to accuse him of wearing the concern as a contrived statement.
The serious side of the evening was definitely outweighed by the sheer verve of the occasion, though. Bradley was adorable in the truest sense of the word; I’ve hardly ever seen such a fond adoration from an audience for a performer. Through a couple of costume changes he gave the crowd everything he had for well over an hour, and he and his band looked more than comfortable with the concept of playing larger venues. I would love to see him get a crack at somewhere like the Hollywood Bowl, but the relative intimacy of this show felt much more appropriate.
By the time Bradley ended the show by walking through the crowd to hug his fans, leaving his band up on stage to finish with a musical flourish, he had provided the icing on the cake for a wonderful evening. Those two albums he has recorded are good, but it is the stage where Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires belong. Here’s hoping this very unlikely success story continues for some time.
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