Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Charles Bradley & The Menahan Street Band w/ The Heavy Guilt @ Belly Up- 08.25.11

One of the great things about music is its ability to constantly surprise you- a band you've never heard of playing as an opening act and blowing you away. Established acts reaffirming why you first got into them in the sort of way that makes your hair stand on end. Classic sounds that unexpectedly find a revitalization. New sounds that break compositional 'rules' to amazing effect. It is because of this capability in music that people keep an open mind to something new, come back again and again and are constantly looking for the next big thing.

When you think of up and coming acts, one of the stereotypical examples that comes to mind would be an assortment of late- 20/ early- 30 year old musicians who, through the combination of a couple of albums and relentless touring (be it local or nationwide) finally get their break. San Diego- based The Heavy Guilt is a good instance of this model and last Thursday night was a solid indication that they have arrived. Playing in benefit of their recently released sophomore album In The Blood, the six piece started the night off with a high energy set of their folksy/ jammy/ indie rock/ psych Americana (I'm pretty sure that's how it's classified). Led through their paces by lead singer/ guitarist Erik Canzona, the band's music is fleshed out courtesy of the outstanding guitar work of Sean Martin and the soul-influenced keyboard work of Josh Rice while Jason Littlefield (upright and electric bass) and the kit work of Jenny Merullo keep everything tight. Alfred Howard (also the band's main lyricist) sits near the front of the stage with an eclectic collection of objects-as-instruments which vary from sheet metal to antique bells to saw blades. He combines it all with his relentless energy to keep things interesting throughout the show. In a live setting, their sound isn't quite as jam-y as on the album (which is more in the vein of Widespread Panic, down to Erik's vocals sounding very John Bell-ish) but has much more depth than the studio recordings. At the start of their set, the crowd consisted of a healthy mixture of fans, friends and those who were looking to get a good spot for the headliner. As the floor gradually filled in, The Heavy Guilt's full-length set came to a close and the band cleared the stage for the main act.

Inasmuch as The Heavy Guilt was a classic example of how an up-and-coming band makes their mark, Charles Bradley took a far different path to the spotlight. His story is well documented and, courtesy of unfortunate circumstances, frustration and tragedy, is the driving force behind his songwriting. The 62- year old 'Screaming Eagle of Soul' released his debut album No Time For Dreaming early this year to much critical acclaim, but the true value and appreciation for Mr. Bradley can only be found in a live setting. The Menahan Street Band, a Brooklyn-based quintet of musicians including a horn section, guitar, drums and bass, accompanies Mr. Bradley with their near seamless sound (possibly lacking only the female backing vocals as heard on the album) and provides the perfect amount of James Brown/ Otis Redding- era soul. Possibly the most striking element of the show is the visual emotion that Mr. Bradley pours into his performance . He clearly has a depth of understanding and an appreciation for how long it took him to get where he is today and is not going to let a moment of it pass without recognizing it as something special- a lifelong dream realized. His emotion is not lost on the crowd either- late in the show, he punctuated the between-song breaks with exclamations of love for all in attendance and his desire to give everyone a hug. Where this would be a nice sentiment lacking in any action in most other cases, at the end of the set Mr. Bradley eased himself off the front of the stage and made his way through the crowd, embracing all takers with genuine appreciation. There was no question that it was reciprocated in spades.

For more pix from the evening click here and the rest of my concert photography click here.
All images copyright © Nate Vandermeulen, All Rights Reserved.
Please ask for permission before downloading or linking to them.

No comments: