Was it just me or did Charles Bradley take us to church last Friday night? The sixty-something soul singer, out touring in celebration of his first-ever CD release, No Time for Dreaming, made it obvious. “I’ve got a confession to make,” he proclaimed near the beginning of his ecstatic outpouring of a 90-minute set. The predominately young crowd screamed approval. “Do you want to hear my confession?” he asked the faithful fans in the house. “I love you,” he said. The feeling was vehemently mutual.
The show began with old-school grooves from Bradley’s young Menahan Street seven-piece crack outfit, then came Bradley, dressed in olive paisley with ministering arms up, launching into some prefatory moans. “Heartaches and Pain,” “No Time for Dreaming” and “How Long,” delivered in his smooth growl, punctuated with timely wailing, spinning, and knee-drop leaps. “How long / Must you keep suffering like this,” he sang. And a front-row drunk bent over the stage and wailed, “Charles, are you okay?”
Bradley took the crowd to healing and salvation, too, singing “Lovin’ You, Baby” with raptures implicit and an extended “This Love Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us,” providing the evening’s erotically charged moments. If anything, Bradley’s real-life career provides the redemption part of his soul service, rescued from oblivion by the Daptone label. But he returns the favor, rebirthing a musical idiom almost lost to modern audiences, which he serves up with a disarmingly naïve sincerity. And he’s not really doing an oldies show, since these songs were recently recorded. Maybe he’s trance-channeling James Brown, but his screams and hip-thrusting, robot-walking dance style somehow seem brand-new, too.
And it all ended like a Catholic Mass, with Bradley making the sign of the cross and wading into the crowd, getting hugs from men and women alike, who in turn began hugging each other. Though he disappeared into the fans, he suddenly emerged like a miracle back onstage, leaving us with a song called “Golden Rule.” You know, like Jesus said? Do unto others? “Why can’t we show more love / To make this a better day?” he sang. Amen, brothers and sisters.