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The Godfather of Soul blesses Portlanders

In support of his latest album release, “Next Step,” the Godfather of Soul is on the road again. He performed at the Keller Auditorium on Oct. 23.

Soul Brother Number One, the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Mr. Dynamite – those are mighty titles, but no one can question that James Brown has earned them more than any other performer. Other singers were more popular, others were equally skilled, but no other African American musician has been so influential in the course of popular music during the past several decades. And no other musician, pop or otherwise, put on a more exciting, exhilarating stage show. Brown’s performances were marvels of athletic stamina and split-second timing.

Opening the show at least 15 minutes late, Brown arrived on stage to the prolonged chants of his devoted fans, who ranged in age from 15 to 75.

His elaborate band consisted of a complete horn section, two complete drum kits, a percussion kit, three guitars, two bass guitars, two electronic keyboards and a Wurlitzer.

Accompanying him on stage were two bodyguards, four backup singers and two dancers who could have doubled for Blazer Dancers. It was apparent throughout the show that these dancers were on stage not only for the ticket-paying audience.

Brown was clad in a shiny blue tuxedo, which was complimented by the red dresses of the backup singers and the white shirts of all the musicians, giving this tour a definite “God Bless America” feel to it.

And before the preacher-like sermon introducing a track off “Next Step,” the band broke out in a rendition of “God Bless America.”

Two of the female backup singers got the spotlight, too, with funky renditions of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Etta James’ “At Last,” which turned into a multi-song duet with James featuring clips from Brown’s 1955 hit “Please, Please, Please” and Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.”

Watching him on stage, you wouldn’t even think this man is 70 years old. He danced more than half of the entire hour-and-a-half show, giving the audience an opportunity to see where Michael Jackson’s “moonwalk” originated. Throwing the mic into the audience while holding the base with his foot also left concert-goers screaming for more.

Momentarily pausing at the mic in the middle of “Living In America” during the later part of the show, the crowd rushed the stage. Brown bent down to sign albums, ticket stubs and CDs, and to shake hands with any fan reaching up to the heavens to be blessed.

Throughout the evening, he was adorned with at least three different robes by his entourage at three different times, again in the red, white and blue color scheme.

As the evening wound down, he had played a handful of memorable hits such as his 1965 hit “I Got You (I Feel Good),” his 1966 hit “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and his 1967 hit “Cold Sweat.”

Always leaving the crowd wanting more, Brown did not return for an encore. Watching this legend in action, however, I don’t blame him one bit.