Charles Bradley Takes The Bowery Ballroom to ChurchJanuary 21st, 2014
As the blue and purple lights flickered along to the beats that Charles Bradley’s band, the Extraordinaires, were vamping with, there was an enormous buzz of anticipation ripping through the sold-out Bowery Ballroom crowd on Friday night. The hype from his keyboard player began: “We call this man a one-man party. He brings 500 people to life!” By now, most people who’ve heard of Bradley know his streets-to-stage story, but since he started regularly performing, the focus has shifted to how wonderful his shows are.
When he walked onstage, Bradley became briefly overwhelmed as he blew a kiss to the audience before the first song. “I don’t call you fans, I call you brothers and sisters,” he said with a smile. For the rest of the night, backed by his seven-man band (and often up to even 10), Bradley tore up the stage with just about every play out of the soul-singer playbook. If it had been any lesser performer (or person), the show might have felt disingenuous, but Bradley’s life and story inform his act and support it with a sense of honesty. He preached: “Can I take you to church? We’re on this stage to give you music and love and to change this corrupted world.”
Bradley sang of love, both lost and gained. He asked the biggest, seemingly unanswerable questions with his lyrics. Although most of this has been done before (even down to the apparel: multiple sequined jackets and even a bright orange jumpsuit), it was easy to listen to Bradley’s gravelly voice during—and in between—his songs and believe that he’s using these tropes to affect what change he can. He surrounded his beautiful soul music with purpose, and in the end, Bradley entered the audience of his brothers and sisters to embrace them during his biggest song yet, “Victim of Love.” —Sean O’Kane