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He’s 69 years old and in recent years has been plagued by serious illness. But the legendary Bobby Womack is still the consummate soul man, as he proved in his show Friday night at NYC’s City Winery, the first of a three-night stand. He even still dresses the part, wearing a fire engine red leather suit complete with matching cap and sunglasses. When he launched into his opening number, the title song from the blaxploitation flick Across 110th Street, it was easy to believe it was still 1973.
Except, that is, for the prohibitive ticket prices charged by the club. Starting at $90 just to sit at the bar, they were no doubt responsible for the comparatively light attendance despite the fact that this was Womack’s first NYC show in nearly ten years.
The nostalgic vibe was reinforced early on when he trotted out one early ‘70s classic after another: “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out,” “Harry Hippie,” “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha” and “Woman’s Gotta Have It.” His gruff voice is a little weathered but still remarkably strong considering everything he’s been through.
The tiny stage was crammed with his large band that included a three-man horn section, as well as three female back-up singers, his daughter Gina among them. Womack’s voice had time to rest thanks to the funky arrangements that provided plenty of room for instrumental breaks, with his singers frequently pitching in with solos as well. But his main concession to his age was staying seated for much of the show.
“Can we keep moving along?” he kept asking through the fast-paced evening. But that didn’t stop him from stopping to pay tribute to such mentors and colleagues as Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, and Wilson Pickett, among others. His gospel roots were illustrated in his call-and-response interactions with the audience, as well as such songs as “Jesus Be a Fence Around Me” and “Deep River.”
But his stage patter was just as often playful, as when he interjected “I’m talking from experience” during “Woman’s Gotta Have It” and finished “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” by adding “Wait until I leave your ass.”
He offered only a smattering of songs from last year’s acclaimed release The Bravest Man in the Universe (XL), including the title track and the show-ending “Love is Gonna Lift You Up.” But he made sure to include classics from his early sibling group The Valentinos, such as “Looking for a Love” and “It’s All Over Now,” the latter of which provided the Rolling Stones with one of their biggest hits.
It was an evening of nostalgia, to be sure. But Womack didn’t coast through it, instead investing each song with a powerful emotional immediacy and fervor. He may or may not be the bravest man in the universe, but he’s certainly a soul survivor.
Across 110th Street
Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out
I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much
That’s the Way I Feel About Cha
Woman’s Gotta Have It
A Change is Gonna Come
Looking for a Love
If You Think You’re Lonely Now
The Bravest Man in the Universe
Jesus Be a Fence Around me
Love Has Finally Come at Last
(No Matter How High I Get) I’ll Still Be Looking Up to You
I Can Understand It
It’s All Over Now
Love is Gonna Lift You Up
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