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Ray Charles stopped off for 50 minutes last Wednesday night at the Broward Center For the Performing Arts. A packed house was on hand. Many in attendance, of course, were merely rich socialites who could easily afford to pay the exorbitant price that a fat cat like Charles demands for a ticket these days. For those people his brief set was probably passable amusement. What do they care? They'll be the same privileged patrons showing up in droves at the Broward Center next month to see Mandy Patinkin. But for anyone who came to the Au-Rene Theater hoping for one last scintillating display of Charles' legendary genius, sad to say, the evening was largely a bust.
By his own account -- no birth certificate exists -- Ray Charles turned 69 years old in September. Maybe it was just the night or perhaps just his mood, but Charles sounded something much worse than old last Wednesday: He sounded perfunctory. The incredible range of vocal shadings was there -- the indecipherable grunts, moans, and squeals; the keening falsetto; the rich, grizzled baritone that already sounded ancient, or perhaps timeless, 40 years ago -- but they were delivered without much evident joy or sorrow. Where, one wondered, was Ray's heart? Where was the soul? Where was that singularly transcendent, deeply human quality in Ray's music that made him an R&B star in 1954 and an international pop icon with the release of "What'd I Say (Part 1)" in 1959 and that subsequently carried him through decades of triumphs and failures alike? Where was the genius?
There were a couple of brief flashes, both on ballads. The first occurred during "Georgia on My Mind" when Ray seemed melancholy and sang every bittersweet line as if it meant something to him. The second was a plaintive recitation of "Till There Was You," a song subtly embellished by his 17-piece band and Ray's lonesome and blue keyboard riffs. For the duration of those two songs, it was unpleasant to imagine a world without the elegance and beauty of Ray Charles. For the rest of the set, however, one could only wish for an artist as inspired and enthusiastic as Mandy Patinkin. OK, maybe that's a little much.
Ray was animated. For a blind guy sitting on a piano stool, he sure did move around a lot. He smiled incessantly. He spoke a bit to the audience, mostly garbled nonsense. All of it seemed like practiced, meaningless affectation. He threw off cursory versions of up-tempo R&B material. Other ballads were plodding and wandered off into pointlessness. Even the five Raelets, who were finally hauled out about 20 minutes before quittin' time, were uninspired. After closing with a mandatory pass through "What'd I Say," Ray allowed his valet to lead him off stage. The crowd instantly poured from the theater, precluding any hope of an encore or redemption. The Genius had left the building.
The Culture Room is throwing a big ol' anniversary shindig, and you are cordially invited to attend. "It's just gonna be a cool party with a lot of cool people," promises owner Greg Aliferis. "We're expecting a tremendous crowd."
And why not? Over the past 12 months, Aliferis has established the Culture Room as the area's preeminent bastion of local, original rock 'n' roll music. For four nights every week (Wednesday and Friday through Sunday), the best and occasionally worst of South Florida's rock talent hits the giant, elevated stage of the Culture Room and takes a rip at glory. Admittedly most fail in that regard, but what the hell, at least the place is always rockin'. Generally the sound in the main room is a wee bit on the thunderous side for the Calibrator's tender ears. Likewise, conversation is a bit difficult to achieve, but then who actually converses anymore, and what good does it really do?
Happy birthday, Greg. Rock on.
A Flock of Seagulls, still flapping around 17 years after its new-wave smash "I Ran (So Far Away)" dominated MTV's playlist, headlines the Culture Room's one-year anniversary party Thursday, November 25. The club is located at the southwest corner of Oakland Park Boulevard and Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. The local rock outfit Purgeopens the show, and DJ Jimmy spins progressive and retro dance discs all night. Should be cool. Call 954-464-1074.
If you have any interest at all in classic late-'60s and '70s reggae, you'll want to be at Vintage Reunion '99 Friday night. The Calibrator strongly believes that, aside from Toy Story 2, Vintage Reunion will be the feel-good hit of the season. Last year -- the reunion's second -- a mixed crowd of more than 1900 reggae enthusiasts showed up at Alpha Banquet Hall in North Miami for the annual event. Fay Hanse, the sweet lady who conceived and organizes the affair, expects an even greater turnout this year as she brings the sweet sounds of Jamaica's finest back to scenic Pembroke Pines, where the reunion began and where anything that has to do with fun rightfully belongs.
The lineup for the evening -- most of which is being flown in from Jamaica -- is stellar and includes the likes of John Holt; the great vocalist and bassist Leroy Sibbles; the mellow, chart-topping proponents of "lover's rock," the Melodians; the Queen of Reggae, Hortense Ellis, sister of Jamaican rock-steady legend Alton Ellis; and one of reggae's most respected backing vocal groups, the Tamlins. Also on the bill are Carl Dawkins, Ernie Smith, and local hotshot Audley Rollins. Finally Lloyd Parks O.D. & We the People Band will accompany every act. Now if all that doesn't feed your classic reggae jones, you have problems beyond repair.