Concert Review: Charles Bradley in Vancouver at the Commodore
Seeing Charles Bradley in Vancouver at the Commodore last night was my first time at the venue. I polled some friends and I reached the consensus that it’s the best in the city. Bradley filled it to the brim. The balconies and the seats turned to standing room only. It was a sea of soul sisters and soul brothers.
People let out loud screams as the projector screens went up and the lights went down. The band took the stage. Distorted guitar blasted through the speakers. In came the horn section. There was still no sign of the man but the band was grooving. From left to right, his Extraordinaires were trumpet, saxophone, keys, drums, bass, and guitar.
They transitioned in to a slow groove; the keys player took centre stage to do his introduction. “Are y’all ready for some good lovin?” he asked. The audience responded with yeaaaas and wooooos.
Charles Bradley entered from stage left in a white suit with silver sequins on it. “Hellooooo” he said, half singing. He mimed a heart, grabbed the microphone and started singing “Heartaches and Pain.” Everybody in the crowd smiled. When Charles says he loves you you can bet he means it. This man is unable to communicate with anything less than everything he’s got.
The horn players had tambourines on their elbows, at the ready. Bradley twirled to reveal a skull on the back of his white leather jacket. CB took us to church on the next one. I resigned myself to the performance – I was fully immersed in it. Charles Bradley takes you to a place that you can’t easily be transported to or explain once you come back from it.
Bradley is a man possessed, he took off his jacket for the next one. The keys player scrunched his face as he played his part of “Nobody But You.” Nobody but Charles can shriek and scream at the top of their lungs and hit you right in your chest. “Fellas, break it down,” said Charles to his band. They broke it down and so did Bradley. He crouched on the ground before rising to do one his signature moves, the robot.
His music is a head scratcher. During “You Put The Flame On It,” the horn section, the guitarist, and the crowd sang back up. The keys player’s scrunched face remained. CB showed off his hip thrusting ability.
After the song was over, Charles Bradley left the stage. Without missing a step, his Extraordinaires held their own. Sans Bradley, the sax player took the spotlight. Just when the audience thought it was over, the band transitioned back in to the jam session. As it ended, crowd members could not contain themselves.
I wonder what magic potion Charles sipped on backstage, it had to be something special. The life juice of the 67 year old Screamin’ Eagle of Soul needs to be bottled and served. The keys player took the mic again, “You ready to keep this party moving? If you have a drink in your hand, please raise it in the air. If not, just put your hands in the air.” Everybody clapped their hands and stomped their feet. They screamed and shouted to show their love and support.
CB returned in a burgundy jumpsuit and a black robe with an Egyptian pharaoh on the back. Next, was “Love Bug Blues.” To my right, a Big Lebowski lookalike was head bobbing. Surveying the crowd, I noticed a lot of heads bobbing. I couldn’t see an idle body, most of the people in attendance were singing along.
“If it wasn’t for you, there would be no me,” said Charles. Bradley spread his wings between songs, he might as well have been flying. The horn section was on tambourine duty during “Lovin’ You, Baby”. Throughout the night, the drummer kept the timing and even sang back up. He was wearing a canary yellow shirt and a black bow tie. He looked a bit like a much hairier Charlie Brown.
Some of Charles Bradley’s moves look like they are borrowed from the old Asian people doing Tai Chi in the park on Sunday morning. Charles sang, “When you touch me, baby. My heart skips a beat.” Mid song cheers erupted. Bradley doesn’t sing from his gut. He sings from somewhere way deeper. It comes from the same place that his music touches his fans.
It didn’t matter what song he was singing, people young and old had their hearts grabbed out of their chest. By this point in the set, everybody on stage had lost their jackets except for the bass player. He was still plucking away. “Ain’t It a Sin” was a real crowd pleaser. Everybody was twisting and grooving.
Charles concluded his set with the Black Sabbath cover and lead single of his latest album, Changes. CB cut through the full wall of music that his Extraordinaires provided. Take Bradley or the band away and it still would sound beautiful. People closed their eyes to feel the music.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the part that hurts me the deepest,” said Charles during the instrumental breakdown. The sea of people swayed to the last verse and chorus. As it ended, Charles fell to the floor only to slowly rise again. “We love you Charles!” screamed two die hard fans. Charles told us to tell the people close to us that we loved them before they were gone.
“It’s time to go home and say I love you,” said Charles. Everybody cheered to show the love was mutual. “Till the next time, I wanna say I love you. Good night,” he added. There were whistles, claps, screams and shouts as the band played Charles Bradley off. People cheered and stomped. They willed an encore to happen rather than chanting for one.
Mr. Keys Player returned to the microphone, “Vancouver man, y’all rock. Cheers to you guys.” We all wanted more. We screamed and shouted for the bad man to return. Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires walked back out for one last song, “Why Is It So Hard?”
The strong performance was somehow still capped off with a crescendo. Only CB could pull off the impressive feat. Every song of his expresses life. Every word he sings is true. Charles Bradley’s music is autobiographical, it’s fact not fiction. There’s not a morsel of his being that doesn’t go in to his craft. It’s magical.
Everybody, Charles included, was bewildered by the gathering of people. It’s not every day that a 67 year old man, with a life story like Charles’, can sell out a 1000 soul venue. “We are all brothers and sisters,” said Charles. Bradley wants us all to end the fussing and fighting. Bradley wants love.
As the night ended, a crew member handed Bradley a bouquet of roses. He hugged a few people in the front row and tossed out the roses. His Extraordinaires continued to do their thing as the Screamin’ Eagle of Soul said his final thank yous. All night they supported a man on a mission: to spread love to the entire world. Charles Bradley ended by saying, “You made my night. You’re gonna make me dig down deeper to make this world a better place. I love you Canada. Thank you so much”
Be sure to check out Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires at a stop on the Changes tour.
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