[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at
1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Friday, May 1.]
LOS ANGELES -- Red, white, blue ... and Brown. In Godfather we trust.
All men are created funky and are endowed by their creator with the inalienable
rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of gettin' down ...
James Brown is American music down to his last sweat gland. Always has been
and -- if his show at Los Angeles' House of Blues on Monday is any indication --
always will be. Now and forever. Amen.
It all came down to Brown's last big hit, "Living in America." With the backup
singers going at it in their blue dresses, the musicians slamming away in their
red-and-white tuxes and the dancers getting down in their skimpy, flag-print
bathing suits, Brown shook and shouted out the song at center stage, uniting his
cast in patriotic jubilation.
Yes, the Godfather's still got it -- that primal, impassioned voice, those
flashy, pre-Jacksonite moves, that extravagant, over-the-top style. And Brown
still feels good. The man said so himself in a knock-down rendition of his
landmark 1965 hit,
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Brown,_James/I_Got_You,_I_Feel_Good.r am">"I Got You (I Feel Good)"
am">"I Got You (I Feel Good)"(RealAudio excerpt), dispersing any
doubts by funneling them into an extended jam. Brown was on his knees,
gripping the microphone in one hand and its slanted stand in the other.
"You make me feel so good I wanna scream," he roared.
Brown, who turns 65 on Sunday, jigged and jammed his way through a nearly
two-hour show, proving in the process that his distinguished titles -- the
"Minister of the New Super Heavy Funk," "Soul Brother Number One" and so on
-- are as valid today as they were when some of them were coined 40 years
The Godfather hasn't lost a bit of the monstrous ego and magnificent
showmanship that made him such a mesmerizing performer in the first place.
His moves at this show came off with the same split-second timing as they did in
his heyday. In one standout moment, Brown got down with one of his dancers
and did the Cabbage Patch; in another, he pushed the microphone forward
and, in the milli-moment before it crashed to the stage, tapped its base with his
foot, catapulting it back to its upright position.
Some fans, seeing the way Brown can still perform, were left in awe and
disbelief. As 53-year-old Rodney Leggett put it, "I couldn't believe how he could
still do that jive." Leggett, who first saw Brown perform in 1967, said after the
show, "I should have known that the man's never going to be less than the best
-- he was as good tonight as he was [then]."
Brown rarely spoke between songs, except to shout a commanding "Yeah" at
the crowd, which he did after every few numbers. "Yeah," the crowd would
shout back. "Yeah," Brown would shout louder, and the call and echo would
But the spotlight of this show (the first of two consecutive dates commemorating
the House of Blues' fourth anniversary) wasn't reserved for Mr. Dynamite alone.
In fact, Brown, looking like a million bucks in a red getup with silver-sequined
stripes, repeatedly used his magnetism to draw attention to the talent behind
And, man, did he have that covered. The performer was backed by five
female singers, four female dancers and 11 male musicians, composed of four
horn players, two bassists, two guitarists and three drummers. Many times,
Brown singled out a section -- or a single performer -- in his entourage, insisting
that the spotlight shift. He even spent one song with his back entirely to the
audience while he acted as conductor.
Selections from Brown's funky history such as
Bad"(RealAudio excerpt) and "The Payback" provided some of the
night's most exhilarating moments. On such high-energy rhythmic rants, the
dancers, singers and horn players each synchronized their moves as Brown
laid his own claim to the rhythm and belted out the rhymes. While he didn't
include any songs from his upcoming album, Funk on the Road, he
reached far back in his catalog and pulled out the super-soulful "Try Me," one of
his early hits (1958). The song was a moving romantic gesture; with the backup
vocalists singing away in neo R&B-gospel style, Brown crooned the
Brown is one of the keys to the evolution of contemporary music. But it was his
troupe that gave his classics a modern edge. His dancers proved that you can
bust just as hard a move to "Cold Sweat" as you can to any hip-hop party
"He was the bomb," said Jeff Blayton, a concert-goer, after the show. "That right
there is where it all came from," the 22-year-old continued, pointing to the stage.
"There wouldn't be no rap, no hip-hop, no nothing. Without the Godfather, it
would all be disco."