James Brown might be the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, but yesterday Shanghaiist felt like the Hardest Working Man in Shanghai. Which is why this post is a day late. And because we were recovering from the “Sex Machine” after-party at Mint.
It’s safe to say that the Yunfeng Theatre up on Beijing Lu has never seen anything like it. Usually the venue for performances by an army acrobat troupe, the tired, old, two-tiered theatre came alive on Wednesday night as a huge crowd of mostly foreigners watched a 72-year-old man in a pink, sequined suit sing, scream, clap, shimmy and star jump his way through a two-hour set of soul and funk favourites. The star jump was particularly impressive: especially as this writer — four decades younger — caused irreparable damage to himself simply by kneeling down near the stage to take a photo.
Highlights were many, but “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” was especially fine, as was the tribute to Ray Charles. “We’ve lost the high priest and the genius, Mr Ray Charles. If brother Ray was here tonight, I can just imagine, he’d have sounded something like this”: at which point Brown launched into a blistering keyboard solo and a cover of “I Got A Woman.” Also noteworthy was the extended intro to “Sex Machine” (“Do you really want the Godfather to do his thing? Like a lean, mean, sex machine?”). Not so sure about the “lean” bit. But to give him credit, Butane James looked a lot sharper on Wednesday night than in many of his recent publicity (read: mug) photos.
We also liked the quaint “Grocery” store in the lobby which served beer and (appropriately) popcorn, and the motionless young Chinese guy standing on the steps out the front of the theatre with the huge sign that simply read “The Godfather Of Soul”. Weird.
A couple of points deducted for the over-exposure of a cheesy young duo of female dancers and for the lack of an encore despite a 10-minute standing chant by the crowd. (Hey, when the Funky President has had enough, he’s had enough.)
Overall, though, James Brown and his Soul General band and Bitter Sweet backup singers have set the benchmark for performances by very old yet very famous musos in Shanghai. We await the Rolling Stones with interest.
UPDATE: Flickr photos here and here