The hair! The cape! The shuffle and soul! The Godfather came to town and brought with him a dynamite of a performance. In fact, you could call it the James Brown Variety Show.
Though the contagious energy and James Brown spectacle were there, sound problems plagued the show. And it wasn't the Upper Country sound system at fault - just technical difficulties on behalf of Brown's sound man. But with more than 50 years of musical showmanship experience under his belt, Brown professionally executed the show without a second thought.As with all of Brown's shows, he didn't strut on stage until all the band members and backup singers - known as the Bittersweet - had their time in the spotlight. Brown's personal emcee Danny Ray introduced the artists while band leader "Sweet" Charles Sherrell lead the 12-piece big band soul/jazz ensemble through an array of tunes such as "Respect" and "Unpredictable."
Then the moment the standing-room-only, mixed crowd waited for.
As Ray, dressed in his white dinner tux, stepped to the mike and shouted, "Mr. Dynamite, himself - Mr. James Brown!" the Godfather of Soul, wearing a red poet's shirt and sparkly vest, stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight and jumped into the flash with "Gonna Have a Funky Good Time."
The band, all wearing red and black tuxes, jammed to the groove and the audience bounced along. The driving thunder of "Get Up Offa That Thing" featured two tight fitting go-go dancers joining Brown on stage for a shake, as did Bittersweet.
Though the flamboyant Brown - pushing into his sixth decade - appeared a little heavier than remembered, he moved with the grace and energy of a 20-year-old. And between his raspy "hit mes" and "yeas" Every song Brown performed became and extended jam. And Brown offered his microphone to his musicians for the sole purpose of soloing.
Trumpet master Todd "the Wiggler" Owen stepped center stage more than once and blew out a couple of jazzy solos as the rest of the band laid a hard-moving foundation. Then to follow suite, saxophonist Jeff Watkins soared to the high pitch squealing during his solos. Other solos included percussionist George "Spike" Nealy II and guitarist Ronald Laster.
The show slowed to a jazz-night club setting with the emotional "Try Me" with its signature 1950s "Do Wop" sound. Couples slow danced to the mellow jam before jumping to the big, rapid-rhythm sound of "Soul Man" which followed on cue.
One nice surprise was the slow, progressive-blues of "It's a Man's World." During this tune, Brown was flanked by a sensuous, evening-gown clad dancer. The mood picked up again with the tight, clean pauses and sharp, funky instrumentation of "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Without a pause, the trademark "(I Got You) I Feel Good" ripped through the crowd as everyone bugged out to the tune. Brown fed the excitement as he slid into his patented jittering shuffle dance. The man's blue-glitter cape appeared during a version of his first ever hit "Please, Please, Please."
The crowd ate up the obligatory "I can't take it no more" act as Ray wrapped Brown in the cape and walked him toward the side of the stage before Brown threw it off and dove into another refrain.
"Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" capped the night off and left the crowd, tired, sweating and happy. Mr. Dynamite, indeed.