Charlie Wilson With Joe and KEM Verizon Theatre, Grand Prairie Friday, March 13, 2015
All I could see was red. Horns were honking, fists were shaking out of windows, and bumpers were inching their way into uneven lanes in a sea of taillights making the trek to Verizon Theatre on Friday night. But I couldn't help but be impressed: A 62-year-old R&B veteran with a career spanning some four decades and counting made it all happen. There are very few living superstars his age who can say that they are still selling out arenas, but on Friday night, nine-time Grammy nominated artist, Charlie Wilson, challenged this presumption.
Kicking off his career as the lead vocalist for the world-renowned pop/funk group, Gap Band, in the early 1970s, Wilson -- known to his fans as "Uncle Charlie" -- has spent quite some time in showbiz. He's got plenty of accolades resting on his broad shoulders, and one might mistake that for a tiresome feat. But he carries them all with poise and ease. The list is absolutely massive. As a solo artist, he's earned nine Grammy award nominations, three NAACP Image Award nominations, the 2009 Soul Train Icon Award, Billboard Magazine's No. 1 Adult R&B Artist in 2009 and a 2013 BET Lifetime Achievement award. Wilson's got every reason to step down from the throne, but he's ready to keep going.
And when Wilson hit stage after the innocuously styled opening set from Joe and KEM, I saw red again. This time, for more exciting reasons. A train conductor walk out on stage, dressed in red, swinging a lantern to and fro. Train whistles sounded behind him and balls of smoke rose from the floor. He screamed: "All aboard!" and a line of dancers, dressed in sparkling sequence trailed on stage behind him. It was "Early in the Morning", a Gap Band song; an all-time favorite. We rode our imaginary soul train all the way back to 1982 and Wilson met us there.
There was a sensational effervescence in Wilson's footsteps as he joined in with the dancers in his gold-sequenced jacket. He was just as deft, whimsical and agile as ever; not missing a single beat. "First stop: Dallas, Texas!" Wilson hollered as he made his way to center stage, and by this point there wasn't a single soul in the 8,000-capacity room sitting down. When the band stepped forward to put their faces in the spotlight, I caught note of their red shoes and glow-in-the-dark lime green shoelaces. When they all reached a comfortable spot, they slid right into a tasty rendition of "Beautiful," a song that originally features Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams.
After the crowd had burnt off some steam with the first few records, Wilson thought it best to slow it down to help us catch our breath with songs like "Touched By an Angel," off his newest album Forever Charlie, released this past January. After a few verses and a chorus, he left the spotlight to his loyal band, telling them slyly to "break it down" as he ran off stage for an outfit change. And "break it down" they did. Staying rock solid and on key, the band shifted us into a dream-like trance with improvisations and uncanny chord progressions that were out of this world.
There was a particularly magical moment came when Wilson took to his would-be pulpit to talk about resiliency during hard times. "I beat prostate cancer, I beat drug addiction, I had back surgery," he proclaimed. "I just want to ask you this, Dallas: How do I look?" Then he sparked up the mood with a little humor and a smile as he took us right back down nostalgia lane with records like "Jump On It", Jackson 5's "Dancing Machine" and his very own, "There Goes My Baby." But some of the loudest moments of the night were, undoubtedly when he performed "Reasons" (a No. 1 track that stayed on the Billboard charts for 16 straight weeks) and then "Charlie, Last Name Wilson," one of his most famous hits.
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Toward the end, there were so many phenomenal moments to be thankful for: Wilson kicking off his shoes and dancing around on stage in a pair of socks; the incredible dancers; the badass sax, bass and guitar solos; the flashy outfits; the bright lights that lit up the pupils in your eyes. That's not even to mention the thrill of standing amongst a crowd of people who genuinely appreciated one man's music and what his legacy has already done for generations, both past and present.
As I was leaving the venue, I couldn't help but glance around and see the variation in the crowd. I saw all ages, colors and creeds. I saw top hats and suits, sneakers and T-shirts. I saw young and old, black and white, each coming together as though connected by bridges that had been missing for far too long. And it is for these reasons that Uncle Charlie's still got it.
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