Lee Fields and the Expressions / Menahan Street Band featuring Charles Bradley

Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

by Brad Farberman

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February 19, 2010

Like obvious forebear Booker T. and the MGs, Brooklyn’s Menahan Street Band–an instrumental outfit led by Dap-Kings guitarist Thomas Brenneck and featuring members of the Dap-Kings, Antibalas, El Michels Affair, and the Budos Band–sounds great both behind an R&B vocalist and in the absence of one. And it was this back and forth (the band on its own and backing the gritty singers Charles Bradley and Lee Fields) that fueled the group’s February visit to the Music Hall of Williamsburg.

To open the show, the Bushwick-based septet ran through tracks like “The Contender” and “Home Again!” from its debut, Make the Road by Walking, an album of uncontrived, often orchestral-sounding soul music that touches on dub, Afrobeat, psychedelia, and Ethio-jazz. But the evening began in earnest with the arrival of Bradley, a former James Brown impersonator. Howling and dancing his way through tunes like the moving “The World (Is Going Up in Flames),” Bradley, dressed in all white, energized the Friday night crowd, and warmed them up for Fields, the night’s headliner.

Fields, also backed by the Menahan Street Band (who presumably transformed into the Expressions at this point in the show), provided a different experience than the one offered by Bradley; where Bradley was loud and ecstatic, Fields was subdued and focused. Simply burning on cuts like the smooth “Honey Dove” and the show-stopping “Ladies,” Fields embodied much of what the Daptone movement is all about: grace, subtlety, and soul. With Fields’s exit, the nearly two-hour revue ended just the way it began: with horns blasting, rhythm section grooving, and people gettin’ down.

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