Monday, May 13, 2013

Concert Coverage: Charles Bradley - Turner Hall, May 8

The "Screaming Eagle of Soul," Charles Bradley graced the Turner Hall stage last Wednesday night to an adorning crowd. His second trip through Milwaukee in as many years, and my second time seeing him, Bradley made it seem like he never left; as if he had made a home in the city the last time he came through. Whether this was because of the crowd, or because of Charles' general demeanor on stage doesn't really matter. But both deserve mentioning.

Turner's audience that night was a mixed bag of people, but Charles Bradley honestly doesn't mind where you're from, what color your skin color is, or what religion you follow. His shows unite all who are within earshot and eyesight of the performer, as he dances and sings in a manner that can send goosebumps up your arm and legitimately warm your heart.

They call Charles the "Screaming Eagle of Soul" most notably because of his go-to move in which he extends his arms and raises them up and down, not in a quick fashion, but rather slowly as he backs away from his microphone and lets his backing band take over as he gyrates and dances. In all honesty, however, they should probably call him the "Ageless Wonder of Soul."

Bradley's story is fairly well known at this point, and deservedly so. To put it briefly, Bradley was born in Gainesville, moved to New York, losing his brother at a young age, living with his mother, and taking odd jobs to help support his family. He lived on the streets for a period of time, and eventually began working as a James Brown cover artist at small clubs. It was at this time that he was discovered by Daptone records, and released his debut album at the age of 62 in 2011.

It's this story that gives Charles Bradley his stage presence. He is a classic performer, his dance moves strike awe and wonder in the crowds he performs for, as he's often tossing his microphone to recoil it back with the cord, falling to his knees as he screams in anguish his soulful lyrics, or even hoisting the microphone stand on his back and carrying it across the stage like Christ did his cross. He is a religious man, so none of this is done in vain. His thrusts and version of The Robot were instant crowd pleasers, especially as he began to use these impressive "skills" to play a theremin - an synthesizer instrument that changes tones as objects get closer to it. Some laughed and others simply yelled out "I LOVE YOU" to which Bradley almost always replies, "I LOVE YOU TOO!"

To go with Bradley's grace, is his incredibly grateful disposition. Bradley's been to hell, and he knows it, which makes him that much more grateful to be where he is. He appreciates every single set of eyes in the crowd, and aims to reach every single heart with his music.

Not to be outdone is Bradley's backing band, lead by guitarist and songwriter Thomas Brenneck and MC/keyboardist for the night Mike Deller, both from The Menahan Street Band. Bradley's show would have little backbone without "his Extraordinaires" and the sheer talent they bring to the stage.

Bradley is touring behind his sophomore album, Victim of Love, and his set contains glorious soulful music from both of his albums, including "Strictly Reserved for You", "You Put the Flame On It", "The World (Is Goin' Up In Flames)" and "Golden Rule", not to mention a fantastic cover of Clarence Carter's "Slip Away".

After multiple outfit changes and instrumental breaks which gave Charles a few moments to gather himself and step offstage, Bradley would come out for an encore and perform his hit "Why Is It So Hard" - a song which holds Charles Bradley's tale within it.

It's tough to say whether Bradley was sweating or crying (or both) during his set, but regardless of what it was, Charles Bradley pours his heart out through his music and on-stage showcase, and it's difficult to find the adjectives to describe the way a Charles Bradley show makes you feel. No matter what, anyone I talked to after the show agreed on one thing: it's unlike anything you'll see this year, if ever again.

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