If James Brown now lacks his once wonderous vocal power and range, his show at the Warner Theatre last night was still thrilling because Brown retains the unrelenting professionalism and energy that are his trademarks. In tact was his hoarse rasp, the tense physical dance routines and the precision choreography of his 10-piece band. As usual, the band seemed a perfectly synchronized extension of Brown's body, effortlessly managing tricky rhythmic stops and interludes during and between songs.
Most of the material was the fast and complex polyrhythmic funk Brown developed in the late '60s featuring choppy guitar parts, stuttering horns and Latin-influenced dance rhythms. However Brown, his voice only a whisper, had the crowd swooning when he reached back for one of his gospel-influenced ballads, "Try Me."
While Wilson Pickett's voice was strong enough, little else was right in his brief and self-indulgent opening set. Dance classics like "Mustang Sally" and "Funky Broadway" became meandering showcases for Pickett's cliche'd theatrics. He grunted, chuckled and let loose with falsetto shrieks. He climbed into the audience and pulled some of them on stage, all in lieu of a single, convincing moment of vocal excitement. Pickett's ragged seven-piece band, lacking the instrumental drama of his classic recordings, was a reminder of how great soul music was the result of unrestrained emotionalism and understated instrumental work.