Potawatomi Bingo Casino
April 17, 2001
James Brown feelin' funky.
Story by Tony BonyataAt an age where most people are comfortably settling into retirement, soul, funk, R&B and rock 'n' roll legend James Brown proved to an enthusiastic crowd in Milwaukee last week that he's still got enough explosive energy to earn his title as Mr. Dynamite.
Photos by Phil Bonyata
More than a showcase for Brown himself, his show was closer to a deep-fried Vegas review with guest vocalists, glitzy lights, sexy dancers, a feisty quintet of female background singers - known as The Bittersweets, along with a punchy 11-piece band - all crisply clad in blue tuxes over white shirts and slacks - that revved up to dangerous levels but had the dexterity to slam to a screeching halt when needed.
Maybe Brown's age, he'll turn 68 on May 3rd, had something to do with him filling out his show with all the extras. But after seeing this consummate artist in action, he proved to be much more than just one of the most charismatic frontmen to grace a stage. Still able to get on the good foot, and in great shape for a man of his age - wearing a tight blue suit and perfectly coifed full head of hair, he teased his audience with his trademark butter-on-a-hot-griddle shuffle that pulled a loving smile from every soul in the house. His voice was in exceptional form - from smooth soul passages to guttural grunts and raspy sexual howls. Yet one of his strongest talents of the evening was that of respected bandleader. Every member of his funky orchestra attentively watched every movement from their leader, as he led them through tricky arrangements that stopped on a dime if Soul Brother Number One so much as flicked his wrist.
Digging deep into his repertoire, Brown ran through a number of soul-dripping songs such as his first #1 hit from 1958, "Try Me," "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and "Every Beat of My Heart, " which featured Brown joining the band with an impressive organ solo.
In an effort to pace himself for this surprisingly lengthy set, Brown cut one of The Bittersweet's loose for a passionate version of Aretha Franklin's "Respect," before introducing his current flame, Tomi Rae, for a saucy version of Janis Joplin's "Try." Prior to roaring into an Etta James cover, she caressed her swollen belly and explained that she was pregnant, as she said, "it's alright, because it's taken care of by James Brown, " revealing the identity of the father.
More than anything else from the show, it was his heavy funk (a music genre he and his band single-handedly created in the mid-'60s) that stole the show. He ran through his more familiar funk numbers like "Cold Sweat," the horn-driven "Soul Power," the aptly titled "Make It Funky," and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine," which he introduced with the statement to the potential gamblers in the audience, "If you want to win, you've got to boogie!" When three attractive female dancers took the stage for a down 'n' dirty version of "Get On The Good Foot," Brown jumped in line over a punchy horn section and shuffled in perfect unison with the loose but good-natured choreography.
In a testament to his overall demeanor of the evening - smiling and looking as if he was having the time of his life - Brown eventually broke into his signature song, "I Got you (I Feel Good)," as he feverishly danced amidst the full throttle circus of snaky horns, gyrating dancers and a heart-skipping rhythm section, featuring two drummers.
As the crowd was screaming out requests earlier in the set, Brown chuckled, "Dick Clark and James Brown are already the world's oldest teenagers. If I played all my songs tonight I'd be older than Santa Claus!"
And although the mythical man in red may still have a few years on The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, James Brown and company emptied their sackful of greasy goodies to a hungry audience that old Saint Nick could only hope to deliver.
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