Charles Bradley and The Cool Kids 6/13: Bradley is an Entertaining One Trick Pony

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I jumped at the opportunity to see Fela Kuti’s youngest son, Seun, and had heard good things about Charles Bradley (though when I learned he used to be a James Brown impersonator my enthusiasm waned). It turned out that Seun Kuti did not make an appearance at the House of Vans that night. Despite this, I thought the show was entertaining. The opening rap duo, The Cool Kids, delivered an upbeat, old-school flow with production reminiscent of Beastie Boys. Lively and fun, their performance set the pace for the rest of the night. I was pleased to see an age diverse crowd that really danced during a performance.

Bradley’s band began playing a bland, funk revival introduction. It was a monotonous throwback to the early seventies live introductions of groups like The Temptations (see, “The Temptations in Japan” Track 8). After about five or so minutes of this and the pianist revving up the crowd, Bradley came out in a black sequined vest and slacks. Surely, he must have been an incredible James Brown impersonator. Of course, this modern replication of the early era of funk can’t be equated to those that created it: Funkadelic, Sly & the Family Stone, and James Brown with The J.B.’s. Bradley, though, did succeed in emulating Brown’s showmanship and vitality. Considering only one year ago he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, I was thoroughly impressed with his vocal intensity and his extremely physical performance that included a wardrobe change. Unfortunately, his songs were glib and forced imitations of funk standards paired with an unremarkable lyricism. A cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” ended the show and serves as a perfect example of Bradley’s disappointing artistic choices: it begins, “I feel unhappy I feel so sad.”

Though his ability as a songwriter and bandleader is vastly inferior to the man he once impersonated, I stress that he put on a hell of a show consisting of all the flash one would expect of funk.

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