By Graeme Wiggins
VANCOUVER — While the story of Charles Bradley (his years of toiling as James Brown impersonator Black Velvet until his discovery by Daptone Records founder Gabriel Roth and subsequent collaboration with musician Tom Brenneck) might make up some of the reason his live show was an unparalleled experience of magic, that only cracks the surface of what went on at his recent gig at The Commodore.
Part of the magic stems from the raw emotion on display. Bradley’s songs are unfiltered and his scream is piercing. Whether it’s expressing anguish about the state of the world as in the highlight “The World (Is Going Up in Flames),” the smouldering warnings of “Ain’t it a Sin,” or the crushing feelings of loss conjured by his cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes,” by the end there was nary a dry eye in the house.
Another part of the magic is created by his theatricality. For 67 years old, Bradley still has got himself some moves, with frequent mic stand kicks, the robot, his “screaming eagle” pose, heart symbols, and hip gyrations that would make a boy band blush. His face, wizened through the years with deep lines, expresses emotion with a clarity and pathos that is inimitable.
He made “love” the centrepiece of the show and ended his set by hugging multiple concert-goers in what seemed like an authentic display of cathartic release, telling one crowd member that he was special and he loved him “like my own son.” A short encore ended with an extended parable about the colour of roses, with two groups of black and red roses brought to the stage and passed to the crowd by what appeared to be a moved Bradley.BC, British Columbia, Charles Bradley, Commodore Ballroom