Charles Bradley at UCSB’s Campbell Hall

The Screaming Eagle of Soul Wins Some, Loses Some

Sometimes it’s all about location. Last year, when Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band rolled through Santa Barbara for a stop at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, the energy was almost electric. Bodies were crammed in close, drinks were unceremoniously sloshed, and people were bumping and grinding with each and every beat. Yet, when Bradley and his stellar band took to the stage at Campbell Hall this past week, folks seemed hard-pressed to remain standing.

At 62, Bradley may very well be among modern soul music’s most legendary performers. He’s got the pipes, presence, and swagger of a man half his age but the delivery and raw emotion of someone who’s lived two lifetimes. On stage Wednesday, Bradley lived up to his “Screaming Eagle of Soul” moniker, belting and bellowing tracks like “Heartaches and Pain” with tearful and wounded cries. Behind him, the six-piece Menahan Street Band grooved along, horn section a’blazing. Left to their own devices early on in the set, the six Menahan players delivered a strong mini-set of tracks off their recently released sophomore album, The Crossing, and did their best to get the crowd up and jiving.

Unfortunately, Campbell Hall’s expansiveness worked to the band’s detriment. Some audience members stood, but quickly returned to their seats, while others scurried off halfway through Bradley’s impassioned performance. The whole affair left me scratching my head and not-so-silently wondering why anyone would want to take in a high-energy concert from a lecture hall chair. Should Bradley and his crew return to S.B., let’s hope it’s within the confines of a standing-room-only club, preferably jam packed with fans who understand why and how soul music should be revisited.

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