Global Soul at the Hollywood Bowl: Concert Review

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Rickey Minor's inaugural R&B revue delivers star power and a mixed message, but plenty of quality soul. 

Rickey Minor's inaugural soul revue featured performances by Stevie Wonder, Janelle Monae and Sharon Jones, who paid tribute to Amy Winehouse.

“We’re talking about this thing called soul,” Sharon Jones told the more than 17,000 fans assembled at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night, using that line as a preface for dedicating her set to Amy Winehouse. “We lost a soul singer,” she added, making the only mention of the recently departed, but an important one seeing as Jones shared a personal connection to Winehouse via backup singers The Dap-Kings, but also because the inaugural Global Soul revue was a celebration of soul music.

The three-hour plus concert was conceived of and curated by Tonight Show bandleader Rickey Minor and is the first of what he hopes will become an annual festival. If indeed Minor’s vision does comes true, he laid an impressive standard to follow in future summers.

The show was broken up into two acts, with the opening half showcasing world soul from the likes of Nigeria’s Bombino, Ghana’s Rocky Dawuni, and Tijuana’s Ceci Bastida, as well as sets by Soul Seekers and Mia Doi Todd.

Keeping with the theme of the night, celebrating the iconic sounds of soul, Dawuni ended his three-song set with a rousing rendition of Bob Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up,” which brought the crowd to its feet. Charles Bradley, the remarkable 62-year-old who only this year released his critically acclaimed debut album, had no problem keeping the party going. Dubbed the “Screaming Eagle of Soul,” Bradley evoked some James Brown moments with his evocative yells, before wrapping up his sterling performance with Otis Redding’s “My Lover’s Prayer.”

Soul-rocker Grace Potter, who followed Bradley, closed the first half of the night with an energetic set which included the classic “Proud Mary,” a song she introduced by saying, “I don’t believe anyone but Tina Turner should ever do this song.” Maybe, but Potter’s version definitely kept up with the spirit of the original.

The covers, often inspired choices, added a unique quality to the evening and created some of the concert’s highlights, perhaps the biggest being Janelle Monae’s sparkling rendition of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” a version will hopefully make its way to YouTube because it deserves as large an audience as possible. Jones’ choice of cover was Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy,” one of two songs by the late R&B trailblazer performed that night. The second was the night’s closer, an all-star version of the seminal “What’s Going On.”

Like any new event, Global Soul had its share of kinks, one of which was what exactly the night was about. Originally billed as a tribute to the What’s Going On album, so much so that bootleggers outside the Bowl were selling Marvin Gaye t-shirts, the inclusion of just two Gaye songs seemed to confuse fans hoping to celebrate his music communally.

Still, no one left with any complaints, as is always the case when Stevie Wonder takes the stage. Brought out by Minor as, “The man you’ve all been waiting for,” Wonder offered a moving glimpse into his own musical formation, recalling his love for Jackie Wilson, performing a tease of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” celebrating the “genius of soul” (Ray Charles) with a bit of “It’s Alright,” and paying tribute to the late Jesse Belvin, who died at 27 in a 1960 car crash, with “Goodnight My Love.” Wonder dazzled the crowd with “Superstition” and an encore version of “Higher Ground,” both of which are amazing moments to experience live, but the high point may have been seeing him play DJ. If Global Soul does return, that should be played up as its greatest strength: the ability to see artists truly celebrate the music they love.