Budos Band & Charles Bradley rectify the situation

Some of the Daptone Records gang came to town on Friday.

I had not heard of Charley Bradley, and so was happy to learn when we arrived that he was another Daptone recording artist who’d be singing with members of the Budos Band.

He was great!  A very affecting performance.  Bradley was born in Brooklyn in 1948 and saw James Brown at the Apollo in 1962.  “Brown’s energy formed a lasting impression on Charles. He went home and immediately began practicing microphone tricks with a broom attached to a string, imitating the Godfather’s every move.”  He first put together a band in Bar Harbor, Maine (!)– but all his bandmates were drafted for Vietnam, and he ending up finding “work as a chef in Wassaic, New York at a hospital for the mentally ill” and working as a cook for years while playing music on the side.

“Charles finally found an audience when he began making appearances in local Brooklyn clubs performing his James Brown routines under the alter ego “Black Velvet”” and he was discovered by Daptones Records at a Black Velvet performance at Bushwick.

It makes sense that Bradley is/was a professional JB imitator, as his voice is a dead ringer for the King of Soul’s, minus a lot of the vocal/melodic range; it’s a blunt instrument, but on stage he combines it to entertaining effect with JBesque moves, mostly performed fairly slowly and deliberately; he still does some of those “microphone tricks.”  Bradley’s a stocky guy, not too tall, in his early 60s and not unusually spry for someone of that age, dressed last night in very shiny and loose suit pants.  The crowd gave him a lot of love and he kept saying “I love you too!” and touching his heart and gesturing out to us all.

Here he is (at SXSW this year) performing “Heartaches and Pain,” about the murder of his brother.  Bradley starts singing about 2 minutes in.  The guy can really wail, and he exudes emotion. There’s something potentially awkward in this 60-something year-old African-American soul singer who’s been somewhat battered by life, “discovered” and brought on tour for a 95% white hipster college-town audience, but in practice it all felt very sincere and authentic.  The soul was real!

The Budos Band are an interesting group — an all-instrumental band with 10 or so people on stage, lots of horns and percussion, playing music that sounds straight out of 1972 or so, a heavy Afro-Cuban groove with a particular debt to Fela Kuti and other Afrobeat music of the 1970s.  It’s great dance music, and in person was a bit harder-hitting and decadent-feeling than I’d expected.  The music is so retro (& in eminently good/hip taste) that I thought they might have a slightly music-nerd/curatorial vibe, but they were sloshing down the Jameson’s (one of the percussionists kept sharing his bottle with two drunk girls w/ pigtails in front) and the front man (well, the guy who spoke to the audience) was prone to make comments like “so if you don’t have a copy of the Cobra [meaning Budos Band III] in your fuckin’ hands, now’s your chance to rectify that motherfuckin’ situation.”

In appearance, every member of the band could be placed on a Venn diagram chart somewhere between these poles: Al Pacino as Serpico; Zack Galifianakis; Hasidic student.  Scraggly beards up the wazoo.  The guy in the middle of this photo dropping dirt from his hands roamed the stage wielding his bass to charismatic and somewhat intimidating effect.  Here’s a video from 2010 (although they looked less hairy then).

It was fun to be at a rock show with so much dancing.  A maybe 50-ish woman next to us was rocking out in a major way.  We had to leave early for the sitter, but I bet they played for quite a while.  They’d be great for the Lotus Festival.

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2 Responses

  1. Agreed, Ivan, Bradley had quite an entertaining stage presence – I can’t say I’ve every seen some of those tricks live. He definitely worked the audience in a gorgeous way. His vocal timbre was so unique, it reminded me of a trumpet when overblown and distorted – an effect that is fascinating in small doses, which wasn’t quite Bradley’s approach. I also found myself wanting to move a little more, and his tunes were mostly on the ballady side. What ultimately turned me off was that his JBesqueness seemed sooo formulaic. It seemed a bit over-predictable, over-refined, practiced beyond the point of anything truly raw and spontaneous.

    As for the Budos Band, I’m not sure where to start. First I should say I ADORE the genre of music they play; Afro-beat can be poorly articulated and I will still boogie the night away. We left soon after you guys. I think you hit it on the nose with the idea of something so dark and decadent about the group. My friend and I agreed that the Jameson’s was probably the most innocuous influence on their attitude, performance, and quality of the music.

    Thanks for sharing the review!

  2. On your final point, yes, I thought about that too!

    RE: Bradley, I know what you mean, although for me, some of the poignancy came out of his history as a JB imitator, the fact that his soul and emotion were so second-hand in that way, but now at last it was HIM on on stage as himself. Almost like Mark Wahlberg finally getting to BE in Steel Dragon rather than just lead a Steel Dragon cover band (Rock Star the film reference there). But I may be overthinking this.

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