Stevie Wonder, Sharon Jones, Janelle Monae, Charles Bradley, et al.

The Hollywood Bowl

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Better than: Episode 2 of “Breaking Bad.”

Celebrating the 40-year anniversary of Marvin Gaye's “What's Going On,” Global Soul Night at the Hollywood Bowl wrangled Stevie Wonder, Rickey Minor (the guy who replaced Kevin Eubanks as the bandleader for Jay Leno Part Deux), and nearly a dozen of the most gifted heirs to Marvin Gaye's velvet bathrobe.

Bootleg Gaye t-shirts sold for $5 in the parking lot and the word “soul” was uttered 5,439 times during the course of the 180-minute extravaganza (vague estimate).

In order of appearance, here were the soul brothers and sisters–with apologies to Pete Rock, whose invitation was presumably lost in the mail.

Soul Brother #10: The Great Bombino

A Tuareg (Niger) guitarist, Bombino resembles a younger Morris Day-like version of Tinariwen, the desert blues ensemble that is rightfully the darling of everyone with a subscription to LACMA.

In front of me, there is a journalist writing a soul manifesto into his notepad. He jots down the phrase “pithy guitar solos.” On a pith scale of 1-10 (10 being the most pith), I'd give the performance a 8.47. Best new Bombino.

Soul Brothers #9: The Soul Seekers

The Soul Seekers are a gospel R&B group who have so much soul that they decided to include it in their name. This is reminiscent of Smokey Robinson's Soul in a Bowl, but significantly less delicious.

They sing “Trouble In My Way” and “Come on Jesus” and perform some sharp synchronized dance moves to some Elmore James-type Chicago blues. I'm impressed, so is the dreadlocked white guy to my left, who drinks from a goblet filled with Chardonnay. He may or may not make a living as an Adam Duritz impersonator.

Soul Sister #8 Mia Doi Todd

Mia Doi Todd, local longtime indie queen, comes out and sings a bewitchingly beautiful Brazilian lilt called “Paraty.” She says it reminds her of a town in Brazil that reminds her that heaven is on earth. Suddenly, I have the strong desire to go to Brazil and/or purchase a Volkswagon.

Soul Sister #7 – Ceci Bastida

Ceci Bastida is introduced as having worked with everyone from Julieta Venegas to Diplo. Her performance is high energy, but would inevitably have worked better inside a small nightclub late at night, rather than a massive natural amphitheatre at dusk. At one point, she plays the melodica. Coupled with the trustafarian next to me (now eating a plate of salami and esoteric cheeses), I became briefly convinced that reggae night has come a week early and no one has told me.

Soul Brother #6 Rocky Dawuni

Rocky Dawuni is the first performer to get the crowd out of their seats. He's apparently the Bob Marley of Ghana and the buffalo mozzarella soldier to my left enjoys this tidbit. With four back-up dancers and a horn section, Dawuni crafts a drunken afro-reggae. The sangria and Chardonnay are kicking in amongst the crowd. It's like liberal arts professors gone wild in here.

An adjacent is going so wild that they decide to let their Chihuahua loose from its hiding place. I'm reasonably sure that Chihuahua's aren't allowed, but I ain't no snitch. Or something.

Credit: Jeff Cowan

Credit: Jeff Cowan

Soul Brother #5 Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley is wearing all red everything. He sings three songs: “The World is Going Up in Flames,” “Heartache and Pain,” and “My Lover's Prayer.” Like you might infer from the titles, they are sad sad songs and Charles Bradley has had a hard life, full of rejection and despair of all stripes. Suddenly, in his mid-50s, he has become an NPR darling and for good reason: anyone who has more soul than this man is probably dead. Bradley spent large chunks of his life as a James Brown impersonator and currently, he is his rightful heir. You should see him immediately.

Credit: Jeff Cowan

Credit: Jeff Cowan

Soul Sister #4 Grace Potter

Given the impossible task of following Charles Bradley, Grace Potter sings “Proud Mary.” She apologizes in advance for any possible damage to Tina Turner's rep and says straight up, that no one should sing this song except Tina. Like everyone but the Dude, she forgets about Creedence.

Credit: Jeff Cowan

Credit: Jeff Cowan

Soul Sister #3 Janelle Monae

Dressed like the world's most soulful maitre'd, Monae was the dynamo promised by every single live review that she's received over the last two years. At one point, she does a cover of the Jackson 5's “I Want You Back,” and it pays ultimate tribute to MJ without being saccharine or corny. She sings, she dances, she does the Running Man. She must've been cool at 8th grade dance parties.

Credit: Jeff Cowan

Credit: Jeff Cowan

Soul Sister #2 Sharon Jones

Dedicating her performance to Amy Winehouse, with whom she had formerly shared The Dap Kings, Sharon Jones remains one of the most gifted performers in the world. She sings show-stopping renditions of “She Ain't a Child No More,” “I'll Still Be True,” and “I Learned the Hard Way.” She also lets loose a cover of Gaye's “Mercy Mercy.”

At one point, she describes the music as “so good it makes me want to moan.” This is essentially the auditory equivalent of that episode of Seinfeld where George wants to make love to a pastrami sandwich.

I resolve to recruit Jones for my Thursday night Karaoke team in Koreatown.

Soul Brother #1 Stevie Wonder

We are mostly here for Stevie. He is at the “national treasure” point, one step below canonization. It's hard to believe he's only 61, because we have been marveling at him for nearly the entirety of his life.

Stevie is supposed to sing a short greatest hits set compromised of “Superstition,” “Higher Ground,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” “Livin' for the City,” “Master Blaster,” “Sir Duke,” “I Wish,” “Do I Do,” “Ribbon in the Sky,” and “My Cherie Amour.”

Instead, we only get the first two songs and stories about Berry Gordy, Wonder's early love of the radio, sadness for the Norwegian people, and his love of Jackie Wilson's backflip. We're also treated to Wonder channeling Ray Charles, who he describes as a “true musical genius.” Game recognize game.

It felt abbreviated, but it's almost impossible to knock Stevie Wonder. After all, there are people tonight who didn't see Stevie Wonder. Plus, at one point, Wonder sway-boogies with both Sharon Jones and Janelle Monae. It was worth the price of admission for that alone. Even the Chihuahua next to me was dancing.

Critical Bias: Ceci Bastida once added me on Facebook to a page that no longer exists.

Overheard Next to Me: Wait, so Stevie Wonder can't even see?

Random Notebook Dump: You cannot cook to Stevie Wonder. John Milton Swag.

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