Equal parts Bill Withers, Otis Redding, and of course the godfather himself James Brown – Charles Bradley made his farewell to Vancouver a triumphant one. If America loves a redemption story, then Charles Bradley ought to be on the U.S. dollar bill because few should ever want to go through the scarring and loss that Bradley endured to get to the sold-out Commodore Ballroom on his Changes tour.
Playing to a surprisingly young crowd, the 67 year old Bradley showed more energy, more gratitude, and of course more love than the cumulative 1200 + capacity Commodore crowd could possibly reciprocate.
The resilience and genuine love for humanity Bradley exhibits is nothing short of breathtaking.
The ultimate show of resolve from a man that has been through everything from incarceration, homelessness, contemplation of suicide, illiteracy, abandonment by his own mother less than a year into his life, and the horrific murder of his brother Joseph at the hands of his own nephew is uncanny and still leaves me emotional as I write this.
From the very first transcending verse effortlessly bellowed in the show’s opener / ode to his late brother sent the first (of what would be many) rush of chills down the spines of united Commodore Ballroom crowd.
To call the headliner’s emotive delivery “rare” is to haphazardly give inflated value the adjective itself. Charles Bradley is rarer than rare; he is one of a kind.
Having seen James Brown’s last show in Vancouver as well, I can tell you first hand that the comparisons are very real.
They ought to be in some respects as Bradley emulated and even impersonated the Hardest Working Man In Show Business since being inspired by The Godfather of Soul at the age of 14; his sister having brought Charles to see the legend at perhaps the perfect venue for the occasion, The landmark Apollo Theater in New York City. Whether by curse or by fortune that fateful evening on Martin Luther King Boulevard marked day one of what would be a tumultuous lifelong musical pursuit.
With each chapter of Bradley’s road-to-now being more salacious and heart wrenching than the last it is next to impossible isolate a solitary performance by the man without providing the reader with brief, albeit surface scratching synopsis of Bradley’s troubled past.
Cited as the backbone of the family, Charles’ brother Joseph was a tax-broker shipped off to Vietnam like so many in Bradley’s life. At one point Joseph’s entire platoon was captured and inevitably killed. Joseph, the sole survivor of the affair remained alive only by executing the unthinkable, he covered himself in the blood of his fallen brothers in arms and lay among them to blend in as having shared their execrable fate.
Joseph endured that abhorrent event and eventually made it back home to America only to be shot and gruesomely slain by his own nephew. Having been with his brother the night prior citing Joseph as acting a little funny Charles ran to the crime scene ignoring officer’s orders to stand back, determined to hold his brother one last time. This was later cited by Charles to be one of the more regrettable decisions of his life, for once past the officer he found his unrecognizable sibling laying bloody and gruesomely lifeless on the floor.
So it came as no surprise Friday night when the 67 year old’s tortured but beautiful soul jolted the Commodore crowd by starting the show off with the powerful vocal delivery of the very tune written about his brother “Heartaches and Pain”.
Bradley followed the hit from No Time For Dreaming with the first of many tracks from the instant classic Changes with the warning that came with 2016’s “You Think I Don’t Know (But I Do)”. At one point at the end of a verse surprising the crowd by purposely falling into what I can only describe as equal parts splits, with equal parts Tebow.
Charles “Black Velvet” Bradley displayed his smooth charm with a version of the robot at the end of 2016’s“How Long” very reminiscent of The Chapelle Show.
Perhaps due to the loving reaction, the consummate showman launched into the same robot at the top of the next song on the set list “Nobody But You”, off of his 2011 debut LP.
Bradley’s arsenal of moves drew adulation from the crowd at almost every turn, from kissing his fingertip and guiding them across his own body, to winks and kisses for various concert goes, and of course the classic boomerang mic stand, Charles Bradley adorned in several sequence suits came across as a man unwilling to leave anything on the stage.
Campy, fun, and often downright silly on stage Charles Bradley’s demeanour and performance oozed every ounce of a man whose breakthrough debut album came out when he was 63 years old.
Not content with living for the day Bradley exemplified a man not willing to regret, a man living in the moment and that moment alone.
When Charles Bradley spoke, we all listened. When he instructed us to inform the one that we loved the most of just how profoundly we love them, we squeezed the one beside us a little bit tighter, or in my case picked up my phone and did as he instructed. When Charles Bradley took from Ozzy Osbourne we let him, and when he made those “Changes” to the old Black Sabbath hit, we tipped our hat and recognized it as superior. At 67 years old and deservedly on a world tour that does not see him back home to Brooklyn until mid July, Charles “The Screaming Eagle Of Soul” Bradley asked one last question in his encore; A question that if CB didn’t have the answer to perhaps nobody ever will, ”Why Is It So Hard”?
Check out photos from the show here.
Charles Bradley Set List
Heartaches and Pain
You That I Don’t Know (But I Do)
Nobody But You
You Put The Flame On It
Stay Away (2075 -Willie Mitchell)
Love Bug Blues
The World (Is Going Up In Flames)
Things We Do For Love
In You (I Found Love)
Ain’t It A Sin
Why Is It So Hard