Jose Feliciano, Bradley J Green
Palais Theatre | 31 August 2012
“Where’s José?” The giant letters loom on a projector screen above the beautiful Art Deco stage at the Palais Theatre where a large photo shows an introspective-looking José Feliciano. His dark glasses are turned impassively towards the distance as he holds a guitar as some might hold a beer: possessively, as though it is a part of him.
Support act Bradley J Green saunters onstage first, guitar in hand, without fanfare. This Melbourne born-and-bred muso is in fine form, confident and ever-so-slightly-cocky as his set unfolds. He has reason to be: his voice is superb and his set full of covers is well chosen to showcase it. Breezing through heavyweight songs such as John Lennon’s Jealous Guy and Stevie Wonder’s My Cherie Amour, Green brings his own brand of highly emotive soul to these classics. He finishes with Better Be Home Soon by Crowded House; the crowd is quietly captivated. Green is one likeable entertainer with a great command of between-song banter. The presence of ‘Projector Jose’ looking down from his screen perch seems a little daunting from an audience perspective, but it doesn’t faze Green.
The floor section of the Palais is half-full as the theatre houselights dim. The projector fires up a video montage of José Feliciano’s long and much-lauded career, featuring some of his TV appearances over the years. Carefully worded phrases scroll across the scenes: “In 1945, a legend was born”. The mythologising intro wraps up, the snapshot of Projector José reappears and the excellent five-piece backing band materialises onstage to begin a funky, upbeat intro, building up to the appearance of The Legend himself.
After a few minutes of anticipatory band jamming, Feliciano emerges from stage left, led to front and centre by son Michael. (Feliciano was born blind.) The crowd cheers wildly. He opens with the straightforward bluesy saunter of Tommy Tucker’s hit Hi-Heel Sneakers then launches into Elvis Presley single, That’s All Right, in which his trademark guitar-dancing fingers unleash a bit, warming up. The slow bass groove rumbles under flamenco-flavoured licks, transforming Billie Jean into an entirely new song. Feliciano chats with effortless self-promoting skill, mentioning more than once his participation on Twitter and Facebook, as well as the fact that his new album’s for sale.
California Dreamin’ showcases Feliciano’s strong and pure voice. Despite dealing with a persistent cough during the night that shakes his body, Feliciano impressively never skips a note, even mid-cough. A tribute to Jimi Hendrix includes a mesmerising rendition of Purple Haze morphing into The Star-Spangled Banner. It’s entertaining stuff and the crowd loves it. His highly technical, epic solo of percussive flamenco is undoubtedly the highlight of the night amidst abundant cover material. Feliciano finishes with his classic hit cover, Light My Fire, before being led off stage to a standing ovation.
It’s a shame he returns within a minute for a forgettable encore performance that doesn’t match the verve of the rest of the night: the band becomes muddy and noisy; Feliciano seems to loose his edge. It’s an anti-climax for what is ultimately an enjoyable singalong evening of solid Americana laced with the spectacular Latin-inspired guitar skills of this master musician.