Story and Photos By Andy ArgyrakisThe following is a flashback to a previously published review of James Brown's tour in support of "Sex Machine: The Very Best of James Brown" (Universal International). The last line of the article is particularly poignant considering his untimely passing as 2006 came to a close.
Between the way he moves, the way he grooves and how he sounds, James Brown doesn't seem like he's 72-years-old. And while not as nimble as a teenager any more, this consummate entertainer demonstrated why he'll always reign as the "Godfather of Soul." All anyone had to do was look at his 90-minute streak of athleticism, vocal acrobatics and a catalogue of treasures presented at a sold out House of Blues Thursday night, his first stop by the Windy City after a two year absence.
Brown appeared renewed and even more focused than usual (perhaps chalked up to New Year's resolutions that will hopefully keep him out of trouble with the cops). Never one to rest on his laurels or strictly pick the greatest hits out of a bag, Brown offered improvisational surprises and the occasional jam session when "Mr. Dynamite" served as the conductor. He was backed by a smoldering eight piece band, five background singers, two dancers and a full brass section that helped to flesh out the sounds of his records, while allowing for updated arrangements on several staples.
Of course it was inevitable to hear "I Got You (I Feel Good)," and despite not nailing all the high notes properly, the track oozed with searing soul. "Make It Funky" also exploded with some horn-hosed mojo and was unveiled with a series of spirited yelps and moans. The set turned towards blues come "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," which considering the venue's name and city of the performance was especially fitting.
Yet there was also free form funk, injected both into the endearing "Living in America" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," reminiscent of Prince's experiments on recent tours. (But in watching Brown put his canonical tunes through such twists and turns, it's clear where The Purple One found his inspiration). Following a few more shouts, a couple of modified attempts at the splits and a piping hot version of "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine," Brown held true to yet another nickname, "Soul Brother Number One." Sure it was a let down he didn't sing "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)," but his vitality on what was played will endear him to all colors, creeds and age groups long after he's gone.
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