Charles Bradley: A Lesson in Appreciation

I wrote this after I saw Charles Bradley perform last year. At the time, I was unhappy with my writing style so this post was filed away in the depths of my draft folder. However, with news of Mr. Bradley’s illness, I decided to re-live this night through what I wrote, and in an effort to grow, finally post it.

I knew he would sell out the Commodore Ballroom. I knew I would be moved. I knew I would feel a slew of emotions through his live voice. But I didn’t know it would be like this. It twisted my heart strings and had me smiling harder than I had in awhile. Sometimes, its just a set list and instruments. Other times, its an experience.

If you don’t know anything about Charles Bradley, he might seem like just another soul singer with a strong voice and an old school approach to music. But he’s more than that. Bradley spent most of his life performing as ‘Black Velvet,’ a James Brown impersonator. Years of jiving, gyrating and belting out #1 hits that weren’t his own, but became his on stage. Luckily for Bradley, and even luckier for us, he was discovered at one of these small performances. Already well into his 50s, he was picked up by Daptone Records and finally afforded the freedom to release his own music. Can you imagine, waiting most of your life, just for it to really begin?

There was something so different about what Bradley has to offer. Yes, he has pipes and knows how to use them. Yes, he can dance and move like no other, let alone a 67 year old man. But there was such a kindness to him, a true appreciation for everyone who had paid (with their time and money) to spend an evening with him. I attend a fair amount of live music and sometimes the rock star attitude grows stale and old. Hell, not too long ago, Lauryn Hill wrote an open letter to her fans, citing her own reoccurring tardiness at performances is acceptable because its part of her artistic process. Well, I call bullshit – anyone with an attitude like that needs a lesson from this man.

“Without you, there is no me” he said to us in between two songs. You could see his heart shine through that beautiful face, filling the room with love. It was obvious that he was honored to share with us, and we were honored to receive. I had forgotten music could be this emotional. I spent that evening trying to convince myself that if I wished hard enough, this wouldn’t come to an end.

But after several costume changes and an overwhelming amount of soul, it did end. Humble as ever, Bradley wandered down from the stage with arms outstretched, giving an individual hug to anyone that could reach him. Its hard to describe the exact feeling within those walls that night. Perhaps the right words just don’t exist. It was overpowering, it was different. But it all made sense in the end because, well, he’s a different kind of man.

Set List:

1. Tony Danza (Extraordinaires instrumental)
2. Revelation (Extraordinaires instrumental)
3. Heartaches and Pain
4. You Think I Don’t Know
5. How Long
6. Nobody but You
7. You Put the Flame on It
8. Mulatu
9. Luv Jones
10. Love Bug Blues
11. The World (Is Going Up in Flames)
12. Lovin’ You, Baby
13. Ain’t It a Sin
14. Changes (Black Sabbath cover)
15. Why Is It So Hard

I’m a victim of loving you.
I’m victim of wanting you.
I woke up this morning, I found your love
Laying beside my soul.

~Charles Bradley