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An extraordnary opening night

The 2016 Canalside season kicked off in high style on Thursday. Charles Bradley and his band the Extraordinaires took it to church, and then to the honky tonk, and then into some sort of psychedelic realm where American R&B met the acid-drenched blues perpetuated by everyone from Led Zeppelin to the Black Keys. What a way to signal the official start of summer in Buffalo.

It was cold, it was windy, it was the sort of night that fence-sitters choose as an excuse to stay home and say “I’ll catch him next time.” Still, a healthy crowd showed up, and as is the case more often than not, those who risked were rewarded. Bradley and his band tore it up, old-school style. Some bearded dude next to me screamed in my ear at one point something that sounded like “This is like Otis Redding at Monterey Pop.” Yeah. I get that. Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, played by an uber-tight band – a seven-piece in this instance, with two guitars, organ, bass, drums, trumpet and saxophone – with a singer given to James Brown-like costumes and full-throated soul screaming. Otis is definitely the man who comes to mind. With a little Brown thrown in for good measure.

Bradley is in his early 70s now, having been “discovered” in his 50s by the same folks who brought us Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. He sings with the investment of his full body, and punctuates the emotional crescendo of his killer band with a throat-shredding scream, a clear nod to his idol, Brown.

The show ran like an old-school R&B revue, with Bradley’s band – a young, all-white crew of bearded hipsters that you’d make fun of if they couldn’t play as incredibly well as they did – taking the stage first, introducing their boss, and then getting down to the funky business at hand, which centered on tunes from Bradley’s third album, “Changes,” and featured torrid soul-blues originals like “Heartaches and Pain,” “How Long,” “The World is Going Up in Flames,” and “You Put the Flame On it,” as well as beautifully reworked covers like Joe Cocker’s “What You’re Doing To Me,” and Black Sabbath’s “Changes,” the latter serving as the evening’s encore.

This was the legitimate American soul article, beyond question.

Opening sets from the Heavenly Chillbillies and Vitamin D underscored an art Gunner I’ve been making for years – Buffalo bands are as good as the bands in any city in this country. The Chillbillies offered torrid Americana, while Vitamin D – fronted by singer and guitarist Vinnie DeRosa, and populated by some of the most seriously funky musicians in our town – tore up a set of soulful originals and choice covers, a heart-rending tribute to Prince among them.

Summer’s here, folks. Saddle up for some serious concerts.