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Review Thu Jul 19 2012

Review: Charles Bradley @ Pritzker Pavilion, 7/16

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Charles Bradley at Millennium Park (photos by Steve Stearns)

Chicago is a bustling city all year round, but it seems that this city feels most alive during the summertime. Everyone steps outside to greet the sunshine's warmth post-intense winter doldrums, and the options for sightseeing and free attractions (especially music) abound. Monday's Downtown Sound installment at Millennium Park unfortunately was featured on one of those summer days that most Chicagoans would want to remain inside for; the sticky, thick heat was unbearable, and the oppressive sun beat down on concertgoers flanking all ends of the Pritzker Pavilion. However, the unpleasant weather didn't stop these swarms of individuals from staking their claim for a front row seat to see both Abigail Washburn and Charles Bradley. Arriving mighty early for a 6:30pm show, excitement buzzed in the air to see the screaming eagle of soul himself, with many a devoted fan awaiting Abigail Washburn's unique set.

Washburn opened the show, and stepped onstage in a flouncy floral dress, positively beaming at the audience. Her light and playful appearance was juxtaposed by the intense jazz style that emanated from her voice, as she sang her version of "Keys to the Kingdom." The entire audience was so hushed that a pin could have dropped and everyone would have noticed, as concertgoers became captivated by her sultry, lounge jazz vocals. Slowly her hauntingly stunning pitches were backed by the light pizzicato from a violin and the hushed whisper of a trumpet, gradually increasing the ballad's intensity. Beyond playing a range of genres, she dotted her set with quirky anecdotes that exposed extremely raw and personal aspects of her life, from spending time in China, to details of her family history, who actually owned a roller rink in nearby Evanston.

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Abigail Washburn at Millennium Park (photos by Steve Stearns)

She later sang a Chinese folk number that was abstract and completely opposed the Western folk ballads she had delighted the audience with previously. Despite this, the crowd didn't skip a beat; the mercurial nature of her music worked to her advantage, as it exposed her style as expansive, yet deliberate. The different musical genres she blends work as puzzle pieces of a unified whole, which are glorified when they are pieced together. The harmonies developed by Washburn and singer Kai Welch were magnificent and exact, compelling the audience throughout the set as their voices swelled throughout the pavilion like waves building and crashing on a tranquil coast. Ending the show with a call and response number and by literally clog dancing on stage, Washburn gained a lot of new fans, and impressed her devotees.

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Charles Bradley at Millennium Park (photos by Steve Stearns)

The pavilion seating was beginning to fill to capacity as concertgoers awaited the legend Charles Bradley and his wonderful Extraordinaires to step on stage. A funky ten-minute jam session began the show, as the Extraordinaires cranked out some soul intros before Charles Bradley triumphantly emerged. Bradley's persona is that of a showman; there's no doubt about that after Monday's show. His first song, "Heartaches and Pain," was raw and powerful, as Bradley lurched his mic forward and retracted it back, then fell onto his knees and wailed away. He appears as if he stepped out of the '60s to greet us; donning bellbottoms, a tucked in button down shirt and black vest, and sporting a James Brown-esque coiffed hairdo, Bradley looked the part of the Motown greats as he displayed his own unique style beyond this.

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Charles Bradley at Millennium Park (photos by Steve Stearns)

He asserted to the crowd, "I'm gonna give you a funky good time," and he sure did exceed my expectations. As the show continued on, the concert seating transformed from a hushed, watchful crowd, to a party filled with a group of dance machines, perhaps inspired by Bradley's own unique moves. He crooned out a range of his crowd-pleasing soul numbers, from the slower "Lovin' You, Baby" during which he pointed at members in the audience, causing me to wear a goofy schoolgirl grin plastered on my face. Swirling his hips around, falling to the ground, and dancing with his mic showed the crowd that he doesn't just perform his music; he feels it, he believes in it intensely, and his urgency while singing his words also makes us believe them, too.

He began "The World (Is Going Up In Flames)" to resounding cheers from the audience, as he started the song in his standard way of slowly raising his arms up and down to the rhythms, as if he was a bird preparing to take flight in slow motion. After a cry from one of the Extraordinaires following Bradley's (first) exit, "you want some more Charles?!", Bradley stepped back onstage clad in an outfit glimmering with purple rhinestone accents. He covered Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," and other crowd pleasers such as "This Love Ain't Big Enough For The Two of Us" during which he let out many a wail and at one point descended into a half splits move.

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Charles Bradley at Millennium Park (photos by Steve Stearns)

During his second return to the stage, much to the crowd's excitement, Bradley offered up some nuggets of wisdom for the audience, and entranced us with his life story before singing his heartfelt ballad "Why Is It So Hard." Abigail Washburn described Bradley as "the Dalai Lama of soul" during her set, and I could see why; the man is just filled to the brim with love for his fans, and for life in general, and during his last song he hopped off stage in order to give hugs to members of the audience who clamored their way up to the dividing fence.

All in all, the night gave way to the blending of two distinct musical styles, with one common thread holding them together; they're both experts of their musical genre, captivating the large crowd the whole way through the evening. I'm pretty sure everyone in that audience would have gladly traveled through the intense heat in order to see that powerhouse show just one more time.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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