Charles Bradley spun his mic stand backward and forward like a yo-yo, thrust his hips nice and slow like a sex machine, and flapped his arms like wings during his virtuoso hour-long performance at Monday’s edition of the Bumbershoot music festival in Seattle.
The Screamin’ Eagle of Soul sang a little too.
Forgive the understatement. The man’s lungs should be designated a national treasure. I wanted to shout “preach on” each time he screamed out in ecstasy or despair. I wasn’t alone. Bradley received uproarious applause when he graced the stage for an encore.
Bradley’s set on the Fisher Green Stage highlighted the stellar buffet of diverse musical acts I witnessed at Bumbershoot Monday. I started my afternoon with hip-hop acts Kendrick Lamar and Big Boi inside Key Arena, then caught the lush dreamscapes of Seattle two-piece Lemolo, before finishing with Bradley and singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten outdoors in the shadow of the Space Needle.
Not a bad day’s worth of music.
Bradley’s marriage of moves, message, and pipes set him apart from the day’s other performers. Don’t get me wrong. I did not experience a bum show while at Bumbershoot. However, Bradley’s performance eclipsed them all.
The way the 62-year-old furrowed his brow, for instance, while singing “Heartaches and Pain” uncovered an anguish burned into his subconscious years before. In the song, Bradley describes learning his brother had been shot and killed.
Bradley and his band played almost the entirety of his debut album, No Time For Dreaming, which was released earlier this year. The songs ranged from seductive soul to midtempo jazz to motivational sermons. Live standouts included single “The World Is Going Up In Flames” and set closer “Why Is It So Hard?”
Bradley paraded around the stage dancing like James Brown’s cousin — not surprisingly since Daptone Records discovered Bradley singing Brown songs in New York. Bradley also kicked the base of his mic stand forward only to catch it on the rebound. He did the maneuver three times, and each time the crowd cheered wildly.
Bradley’s six-man backing band came complete with a trumpet and saxophone player. The band performed admirably, but they did so with stone faces. Did Bradley really suck up all the joy onstage? Of course not.
Midway through his set, Bradley covered Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” It’s a classic that should be on a “DO NOT COVER” list. Bradley would get an exemption from the list. He belted it out of the Seattle Center park like it was an original he wrote.
The phrase “heart of gold” captured Bradley’s essence. In between songs, he blew kisses to the crowd or bowed or said “I love you” to the audience. His sincerity impressed me.
So did his showmanship. He dropped to his knees on several occasions, begging and pleading for the crowd’s affection. With his every move and shout, he cast a deeper spell.
The world and its ceaseless troubles would have to wait. At least an hour. I had no time for worrying with the great Charles Bradley commanding my attention.