SOB’s was packed, from the front door to each wall and it really didn’t take long to fill up last night. Everyone surprisingly started trickling in around 7:30 pm, most likely to get their spot. Â Smart move, because in no time, the joint was jammed solid.
To be told many a time that Leela James is a singer of mammoth proportions when on stage, is totally different than seeing her in action. The introduction of her band was enough to send everyone into a frenzy. There is absolutely nothing that a well tuned band can do wrong, especially this one. Â With a percussionist who was swaying to his own rhythm, a brass section that can blast the soul into you with just one note, a backup singer who was on point and a drummer that carried you along each pulse of every song — what was left for James to do?Â James took the stage and with her presence, she brought the funk, grit and dirty soul to SOB’s.
The disco ditty You Know How To Love Me was her intro song and she already had everyone clapping along and setting the groove for the night.Â James took us back to her phenomenal debut album A Change Is Gonna Come and traveled back to Good Time.Â However, the funk-a-fied transition to James Brown’s Funky Good Time and Rick James’ Give It To Me Baby was borderline insane!Â The brass section never let up or missed a step. Â We were off to a good start.
Last nights performance was a celebration of James’ latest release Let’s Do it Again. James shared with the crowd that the album was done in 4 days and that it’s all live. Â You have to respect that; an artist coming to you with nothing but realness. Â There’s nothing like live instrumentation … nothing at all. Think of that breathtaking moment of when the needle hits the record (…or the first note on a CD/mp3). Â Yes. Â That moment. Â That’s what it’s all about. Â Covering old school artists like Womack & Womack, James Brown, Bootsy Collins and the like was a joy for her and the band and it reflects in their renditions.
When Clean Up Woman came on, trust that even those who didn’t know the song, knew of Mary J’s Real Love sample. At this point, you could have grabbed a hold on the person standing next to you and started bumpin’ — it was that kind of vibe.Â James slowed it down a bit and did the dirty version of her single, It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World.Â Going through the motions and catching the soul fever onstage, James hollered and jerked and you felt the pain surge through her. Â It was spectacular to watch. Â Taking a moment to share with us her love for her band and the fact that she was up there looking cute, with feet hurting in the process — she segued into the ever groovy I’d Rather Be With You.
My Joy brought the house down and James’ interlude took us to chuch! Â She preached, spoke about love and and how everything in the dark, sure comes to light. Â No doubt.Â James kept the show on a personal level, treating everyone in the vicinity like family. Â She even called her Mom from stage with all of us hollering from the top of our lungs as a friendly “hi — what a message that will be received today”. Inviting concert goers on stage to take in the grooves with her during a short session of Joy & Pain, segued into the funkiest version of I’ll Take You There ever heard! Â Horns were blaring, drums and percussion where shaken, hit, tapped etc. and SOB’s was set ablaze.
James kept the party going with the reggae tinged Baby, I’m Scared Of You and Music from her debut album, I Miss You and then an impromptu big band, turned samba jamboree that had everyone doing a two step. Â The ongoing chorus of “turn your music high” being chanted by James and her band, kept everyone moving. Â As the music got louder, the vibe more intense, James’ fro jumping up and down following every step and bounce that she made and the fete coming to a climax, James bellowed out in her mic TURN ME UP DAMN IT! Â Obviously feeling the groove, girlfriend was all in. Â It was an outstanding jam session that had to come to an unfortunate close.Â James’ last song had the singer verklempt, stepping back from the mic at times when the words just couldn’t make their way through. Â Closing with A Change Is Gonna Come was appropriate and fitting for the time. Â Asking everyone to pray for her family and for everyone, knowing that everything happens for a reason.
The resonance of the last line is profound in the sense that, James is part of the large contingency of soul musicians who do not get their fair shake in this day and age. Â Let’s hold on tight to that phrase and believe, that it is only a matter of time. Â A change will come.
To hear some of Leela James’ songs and to purchase her music, click here.
WORDS: Ann Marie Collymore