James Brown, performed to a sold out show at Toronto's Massey Hall on the night of Monday, November 29, 2004. If you've never encountered the man who gave 'soul' its name ... its definition ... raising it to a musical art form -- then you're in for a treat! True musical expression from heart, to ears to soul -- that's what the James Brown 'Experience' is all about! Whatever the man's on -- this writer wants to be on it too!
James, although in his early 70's, looks like he's only a young, energetic 45. He still moves with grace and ease on stage and off; does some phenomenal dance moves with energy and precision -- and livens up the audience with his out-of-this-world soul orchestra, the Soul Generals, like God putting the stars in the sky.
James put the 'stars' on stage and made them shine before our eyes, in all their musical majesty this night! However, as a fitting warm-up to Mr. Brown et al, Toronto's own soul kings, Jacksoul, warmed up the Massey Hall audience with some of the most rousing R&B/soul/funk around. They entertained the crowd with their own invigorating, inspiring original tunes, with professional deliveries that were decidedly fresh and alive. Their upbeat funk and slow, romantic ballads were a fitting 'musical soul food' appetizer, leading up to Mr. Brown and his fabulous band.
After an enjoyable breather during intermission, James Brown's 'Soul Orchestra' came on stage and immediately won over the hearts of the fans. Brown's band were introduced by the Master of 'Soulful' Ceremonies, Danny Ray. (Danny's been a close friend of James since they were 10-year-olds together, 6 decades ago). The Soul Generals came on like gangbusters. From the moment they played their first notes, the audience was captivated. The talent on stage was phenomenal - and only equaled in this writer's experience seeing B.B. King's blues orchestra; as well as the Count Basie Orchestra - and as a teenager seeing Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman towards the end of their illustrious careers.
The one thing that sets Mr. Brown's fabulous band apart from others, is that it seems like fun all the time with them, even though they're at the top of their game as musicians. They opened with high-energy instrumentals that blew the crowd away. Jeff Watkins was out front wailing away solos on tenor sax, with lightening-fast speed, while retaining beautiful melodies and phrasing. I've never seen anything like it - sax/music/fusion/melody at its very best.
There were three beautiful lady back-up singers on stage this evening, providing just the right appeal, as well as enchanting vocal harmonies. Throughout this evening, they were enticing James - and vice versa - and the crowd ate it up.
While these ladies were lending an alluring quality to the musical proceedings, James, himself, made his appearance on stage, introduced by Ray.
James definitely made it very funky with "Make It Funky pt. 1" -- his first song in this mesmerizingly enjoyable two hours of funk heaven! James really got the crowd going, and was all smiles -- straight hair slicked back -- and honestly looking only 45 to 47 years old. He even did some of his trademark funky dance moves a few times during the concert.
"Get Up (Offa That Thing)" followed, with James in fine vocal form. The audience 'got up off their thang' too -- partly to party and clap along with Brown et al -- and some to oogle and ogle the two beautiful lady dancers who joined the others on stage, in 'stars & stripes' and other fancy costume changes throughout this great two-hour show! While the ladies were dancing up front, James played some very cool keyboards a little ways back. Afterwards, Mr. Brown was out front again, and sang a bluesy "My Mama Done Told Me", with a unique soul edge that only he could provide.
Guitarist Damon Woods played some Hendrix-inspired solos on "Have a Funky Good Time". It was a real pleasure to finally see the song's originator, Mr. Brown himself, sing this all-time funky, soulful hit, live!Guitarist Daryl Brown, James' son, backed Damon and the rest of the Brown contingent admirably on funky rhythms and leads, throughout this highly entertaining evening.
James followed this upbeat number with yet another soulfully explosive tune, Sam & Dave's "Hold On, (I'm Comin')". Special guest vocalist Tanya Ray, joined James on this one, and really got the already-standing crowd dancing in their seats and in the aisles. Tanya really added something special to this evening's exquisite entertainment. The fans loved her, and James was diggin' her too, jivin' with him! Brown followed this upbeat winner with the slow, romantic soul ballad "Try Me", and really sang his heart out on it, with the three ladies' vocal harmonies sounding like angels.
One of the background vocalists joined James in a duet on the deeply moving romantic ballad, "If I Ruled the World". This was the other of this writer’s two faves of the evening. After this tune ended, while the audience was still transfixed by its beautiful delivery and arrangement, James took the opportunity to talk to his fans. He mentioned to them, "I want you to enjoy yourselves. One thing you can say is, 'It's clean entertainment'!"
James' vocals went wild on his all-time classic, "I Got You, (I Feel Good)". He also threw in a few of his trademark dance moves during this tune; while the two beautiful lady dancers added some excitement to the atmosphere.
The crowd was up on their feet for "Get Up, (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine, pt. 1". Brown's band were a wall of funk glory on this one, while his vocals were just as fresh and alive as they were when this iconic soul classic was first made a hit by James in the 1960s. Sax player Watkins played an incredibly inspiring solo on this song, after which the enthusiastic crowd applauded loudly.
Another major highlight of "Get Up..." happened when Toronto soul singer RJ joined James on this one, and really added some soulful strength to James' already ecstatic vocals. I've seen RJ sing before - most recently with Canada's 'First Lady of Soul', Salome Bey, in a C.B.C. T.V. tribute Special celebrating Bey's prolific life in entertainment. A month later, RJ performed at a live show with legendary Canadian soul singers George Olliver (Mandala founder); Jay Jackson ('60s Toronto soul Club Blue Note founder); vocalists BJ Reed; Liberty Silver; Billy Newton Davis and the Impressions, at the spectacular Club Blue Note Reunion 2 concert at Toronto's elegant, art nouveau Capitol Theatre Oct. 2/04. ** As a sidenote, Olliver hosted and sang at an equally soul-inspiring Soul In the City 3 in 2003, (put on by the Orbit Room) at the Capitol, featuring headlining Canadian guitar legends Domenic Troiano (James Gang/Guess Who/Mandala) and Rush's Alex Lifeson.
James Brown and the Soul Generals left the Massey Hall stage after their dynamic performance - then, the bright overhead lights came on. It appeared that this historic, funky, soul/R&B concert had come to an end. Then, all of a sudden, while the crowd was still cheering and applauding; Mr. Brown came out onstage again - white towel draped over his all-black outfit; after two solid hours of energetic entertaining to a full house! James greeted several of his fans near the stage, with a hearty smile and a handshake. Then the whole band (including the beautiful dancers, background vocalists and Tanya Ray) -- suddenly joined James on stage, and performed a super-rousing rendition of "Jam", with lyrics like "Dance ... Make It Funky". Host Danny Ray also joined in on this superb finale, too!
James Brown and his Soul Generals went ballistic on "Jam", while the fans (including this writer), pressed nearer the stage. James was in fine vocal form, and still full of energy and smiling while he was singing.
Then one memorable event happened all of a sudden, that caught this writer off-guard; but really made me happy. James held the mic down to me to sing 'Dance' -- then he took it up again, to sing 'Make It Funky'. He let me sing three times with him, back and forth with the mic in this tune - so, I actually sang briefly with James Brown - which to me is a real dream come true! (I remember looking up into James Brown's face while singing, and saw James' face smiling happily back, while holding out the mic to me to sing. He certainly loves his audience!)
This entire concert was a dream come true, for that matter ... for this writer - as it was I'm sure for most if not all of the very lucky people who were fortunate to be at Massey Hall in Toronto, this very special evening.