It’s easy to get excited about throw-back soul showman Charles Bradley. He’s like James Brown, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett rolled up into a rhinestone-decorated coat. Or red jumpsuit. Or gold velvet jacket. (He changes during his show.)
He’s got a gritty, lowdown soul voice that invariably builds into guttural, orgasmic screams during every song. He’s
mastered many stage moves (borrowed from James Brown), including doing the shimmy and slide, dancing with the mic stand and its cord, and doing the splits. Good Gawd! He often preaches a bit, about persevering through hard times, treating people of all colors with respect and working for change to make the world better for the next generation.
It’s all very admirable and entertaining. And the sell-out crowd of mostly young hipsters (who probably discovered Bradley on 89.3 the Current) and some baby boomers loved Bradley's 85-minute performance Tuesday night at Cedar Cultural Center. And it was certainly more animated, showy and remarkable than his Fine Line gig in 2011.
But, frankly, the 64-year-old Bradley – who was discovered a few years ago by the cofounder of Brooklyn’s retro-cool Daptone Records (home of the fabulous retro soul Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings) while the singer was working as a James Brown impersonator – is pretty much a one-trick pony, who fills his show with affectations, both vocally and physically (see those kung-fu dance movements and the slo-mo robot dance).
Too many of the songs – he is the king of suffering -- were delivered with the same intensity and similar dynamics. Billed as the Screaming Eagle of Soul, he favors drama, whether in ballads or medium tempo tunes, with drawn-out phrasing. Tuesday's one outlier, “Confusion,” sounded like a misguided attempt to mine the psychedelic-soul sound of the Temptations circa “Ball of Confusion.”
Furthermore, Bradley’s backup band, the Extraordinaires, was not consistently crisp and forceful. That was especially apparent when the sidemen, most of whom are members of the Budos Band, did rambling instrumental versions of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” and Del Shannon’s “Runaway” to fill/kill while Bradley was changing outfits.
In other words, the Extraordinaires, despite their lofty name, are no match for the Dap-Kings. And Bradley is no match for Sharon Jones, who comes on like a female James Brown but with her own style and personality and a broader range in her music.
Bradley did material from his two Daptone releases, 2011’s “No Time for Dreaming” and this year’s “Victim of Love,” both of which contain originals that sound as if they were from the second half of the 1960s or first half of the ‘70s.
There are some potent tracks on the two records -- just as there were some powerful performances at the Cedar -- but a little of the Screaming Eagle of Soul goes a long way.