For Gazette music writer Michael Hochanadel's preview of this show, click here.
No one argued with Nona Hendryx when she proclaimed, “We got there!” onstage at Music Haven on Sunday. “There” is a place only very few artists can take an audience; and Hendryx and her mega-funky band transported everyone there unanimously and irresistibly.
This announcement followed a ferocious 10-minute medley of her own “Let’s Give Love a Try,” wrapped around Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” and “Take Me to the River.” This worked way better than an earlier medley of songs she wrote for and sang with LaBelle, the 50s-through-70s soul trio that launched her career but only hinted at her creative and performing power. Both were on overpowering display on Sunday.
She promised to “Rock This House” to start and Trevor Gale’s rim-shots shot the song over the moon. But she barely hit the chorus of the slow, rueful LaBelle hit “Goodbye to Hollywood,” before she abandoned it for other LaBelle songs in similarly teasing readings.
“Winds of Change” (a Nelson Mandela tribute) was quietly fervent as “Hollywood;” at least it began that way before the band punched up its drama and drive. Everything else was ALL drama, drive and fiery funk as Hendryx — looking, sounding and moving way younger than her years — crooned and screamed, shed shoes, jacket and inhibitions and led her band with bold voice and willow moves.
At one point she noted children were present, implying that she was holding back on the sensuality. Not so you’d notice: She raised the hormone level of the whole town, climbing on Gale’s bass drum several times and conducting band and crowd with her butt. A fantastically powerful and expressive singer, Hendryx ruled and rocked to thrilling effect. After roaring through “Transformation” and “The Truth Will Set You Free,” she left the crowd roaring “We want FUNK!” until she replied, “Let’s sweat, then” from offstage and returned to transform the place into an onstage dance party with “I Sweat (Going Through the Motions).”
No one goes through the motions like Hendryx and her band: drummer Trevor Gale, guitarist Ronnie Drayton, bassist Warren McRae, keyboardist Nick and singers Keith, Kiki and Dae.
When a boy jumped up to dance during his solo opener, soul-rock troubadour Bryan Thomas challenged, “What you got?” and danced himself — all this in a deep, politically sophisticated song about race and sex that everybody got at their own level. He sang about Schenectady’s underworld, gender, hope and despair. Hope won, but it was close.
In a betrayal lament, he sang, “You can tell him I said that” with such towering force that everybody applauded, even if its message zoomed past some. Later, he warned about “the boomerang of history,” advised “keep a steel helmet handy” and consoled “truth is light.” His “Babylon” had the apocalyptic punch Rastas give the term, and he made the political personal and vice versa with tremendous grace and aplomb throughout his too-short set.
Thomas said he almost left on arrival, hearing the ferocious funk power of Hendryx’s sound-check; but he made everyone glad he stayed. Thomas earned his place on that stage.