written by Chris Familton
Warming up the arriving punters was ten piece band The Cactus Channel, fresh out of Princes High School in Melbourne. Even before I knew their history their young appearance and demeanor felt like that of a school band but as soon as they started playing any notion of a curriculum music project went out the window. All were great players, especially the core of drums, bass, keys and guitar. They are primarily an instrumental outfit and though some tracks lacked the primal kick that the best funk possesses they won over the crowd and musically punched way above their age.
Old school was the flavour of the night as soon as Charles Bradley’s band took the stage to play a couple of intro tracks to set the mood ahead of the announcement and welcoming to the stage of the late in life success story that is Bradley. Resplendent in sequined waistcoat, feather adorned jacket and sporting a tight afro and beaming smile Bradley looked like he had stepped straight out of a 60s/70s soul funk nightclub. Those were times where stage bravado, drama and visceral sexual innuendo were essential to any successful act and though Bradley is in his 60s he still knows that is the key to getting an audience on his side. There is a bucket load of James Brown in most of what he does, complete with knee drops, flung mic stands and shimmies and smiles. He does it exceptionally well though and his voice is capable of switching from a soulful serenade to a guttural scream in a nanosecond.
Much of Bradley’s act verges on pastiche and parody of many of soul music’s trademark tricks and stage moves yet he showed he has mastered a balance between amusing the audience and then slaying them with tender and heartfelt lyrics and that voice that gave everyone no reason to doubt he sings from the heart. Most of the set was comprised of tracks from his album No Time For Dreaming with multiple highlights including I Believe In Your Love, How Long and the devastating encore of Why Is It So Hard where he sang about the hardship so many face when trying to make it in the supposed land of milk and honey and the trials and tribulations he himself has faced through his life. In between his songs of love and heartache he added a wonderfully soulful take on Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold, making it sound even more emotionally bruised than the original.
Backed by the superb Extraordinaires, Bradley was given the space and perfect backdrop to sing his songs. Having released music on Daptone Records and recorded with Bradley on No Time For Dreaming, they proved to be much more than just a backing band, executing every song with just the right mix of sass, soul and funk grit. In particular the trumpet solos were exquisite while the free-flowing styles of the guitarist and bassist made for a very fluid, effortless sound.
Bradley had the audience in the palm of his hand right from the outset and when he descended into the front rows, dispensing hugs and handshakes, you sensed their reciprocal love meant the world to him. Yes it was soul music from a bygone era but it felt like you were transported back to that heyday rather than just observing it from the present through rose tinted spectacles. Fascinating life story aside, Charles Bradley proved he is the living, breathing real deal.