Guillermo Prieto/
Charles Bradley. Credit: Guillermo Prieto/

I had no idea who Charles Bradley was until a month ago, when Jesika Von Rabbit told me I had to go see his show at Pappy and Harriet’s.

I trust Jesika, so I went to the Saturday, May 14, show—pulling a double-shift, of sorts, as I had also covered the Joshua Tree Music Festival that day.

Yeah, I am slow to the train sometimes; I missed him at Coachella in 2015, too.

For the uninitiated, as I was until Jesika’s advice: Bradley is a 67-year-old funk soul singer who started his entertainment career in 1967 as a James Brown impersonator. At Pappy’s, under a waxing moon, Bradley walked onstage and asked: “Brother and sisters, do you like going to church?”

With that statement, Bradley launched into a show of pure optimism and joy. Charles and his Extraordinares preached about love, sin and hope during his hour-plus set, which included a wardrobe change into a blue pharaoh embossed jacket. Fans would yell, “I love you,” to which Bradley replied, “I love you too.”

His songs are part-biography and part-life observation; his performance is genuine, faithful and unpretentious—with some hip thrusts thrown in. The audience witnessed a man who was grateful to be entertaining a young audience—an audience that responded with love. Bradley released his third album Changes, in April—just five years after he released his debut album.

The set included a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes,” which could make one cry, as well as “No Time for Dreaming,” from Bradley’s debut album with the same name.

His song “Why Is It So Hard” is an autobiographical work explaining why performers sing such bittersweet songs: “Why is it so hard, to make it in America? I try so hard, to make it in America, a land of milk and honey, a land supposed to be built with love. It takes love and understanding to live and let live. … Got me a job, to get away from all this stress, but I couldn’t get away, no matter how far I went. Seems like nothing gonna change. Everything still remained the same.”

Perhaps this is the new anthem for America?

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Guillermo Prieto

Guillermo Prieto is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine. That also happens to be the location of his first concert—which cemented his love of live music. A desert dweller for a quarter-century,...