I ran a few errands before the 11:30PM set and got there closer to midnight. Even on a weeknight, it sometimes pays to show up at the later set even though you never know when you’re going to experience magic.
In my case, I arrived just in time to see the BRC Orchestra launch into “Doin’ It To Death” (aka “Funky Good Time”), which featured Manchildblack on lead vocals. What was cool here was that instead of a straight funk interpretation, the Orchestra re-arranged it as an Afrobeat number, channeling one musical giant (Fela) to pay tribute to another (James).
That inspired number set the stage for what came next. I was saying to myself, “I hope they do ‘It’s a Man’s, Man’s Man’s World’”. That’s when Michael Hill stepped up to the mic, guitar poised, and began to sing. In my mind, this is one of James’ iconic songs, partly because it’s a ballad, as opposed to what he’s best known for: uptempo, funky move-your-body numbers. More to the point, in the popular imagination, James Brown is known for his dancing. Which makes this fine ballad stand out even more.
So, with Michael’s warm voice leading the charge, this was the song that really energized the audience. Then, he called Ronny Drayton for a guitar solo, which sent everyone into the stratosphere. Highlighting the delicate, yet important interplay between audience and performer, the orchestra fed off the enthusiasm of the crowd, took the baton and ran with it. They’d caught their second wind. From “I Feel Good” (led by Queen AaMinah), to “Try Me” and “Say It Loud I’m Black & I’m Proud” (Garland Jeffreys), “Cold Sweat” (Reese), “Superbad” (Kelvyn Bell’s percussive scatting was refreshing), to the finale of “Sex Machine”, the Orchestra was tight enough to stop on a dime. It was as if James had come back and threatened to fine people for any mistakes.
The good news: If you missed this show, the BRC will reprise this effort on June 22 at Symphony Space in Manhattan, as part of its “Maximum Rhythm & Blues” series that month. Hat’s off to Gene Williams for his artistic direction and for posting the set list in his blog.
Check out a few more photos are after the jump.