The Crazy World of Arthur Brown February 16, Vinyl.
I turned 50 on February 16. It wasn’t bad at all; you’ll find that out for yourself, if you’re lucky. But the age does have a bit of a stigma attached to it—“you’re the big 5-0, Carter, ha-ha!”—and I can think of no better way to have defeated that stigmatization than to have spent my birthday in the presence of an energetic, flamboyant, 74-year-old musician whose best-known music is just about my age. Arthur Brown, I bless your immortal soul.
Brown is best known for his 1968 single “Fire” (the one that begins with him growling, “I am the God of Hellfire, and I bring you…”). This was The Crazy World of Arthur Brown's second visit to Vegas, and to the Hard Rock Hotel, in less than in a year; his band played the Psycho Las Vegas fest last August, and generated the kind of buzz septuagenarians don’t usually create. The consensus opinion was, “You have to see this guy,” but no one provided me with specific details. On my birthday, I witnessed those details firsthand: Brown has a masterful control of his voice, he performs in a psychedelic facepaint that looks like one of those Magic Eye drawings and he’s just the teeniest bit insane.
Careening through a set that included old songs and new, Brown was every inch the showman, changing costumes as often as he could (his wardrobe included wizard’s robes, which he wore for a blistering cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins' “I Put a Spell on You,” and a long coat made of electroluminescent wire); bumping and grinding with pinup model Masuimi Max, whom he could easily have grandfathered; and performing songs in virtually all the genres, from hard rock to Latin to psychedelia to blues.
It’s that last bit that’s most significant, because Brown could have given me a fun set with my eyes closed. His operatic voice can do just about anything: he can go low, he can go falsetto, he can growl, he can bellow. Most times, he occupied the same soulful range as Tom Jones, though he took frequent detours into David Bowie and Tom Waits. That would be something amazing for a 50-year-old. For a gentleman Brown's age, it was little short of miraculous.
The set was consistently watchable and listenable, but had two clear highlights. One was “Fire Poem/Fire,” which is what we all came to hear (Brown even acknowledged as much late in the set, though he joked that he might perform some Kinks, Eminem and Adele covers instead, which honestly wouldn’t have been bad). The other was “Devil’s Grip,” which he performed as a man possessed, stalking back and forth onstage and convulsing as if he really were in the clutch of an occult hand.
And upon the conclusion of “Grip,” Brown gave me a birthday present: He noted that the driving rock number, his first solo single, was 50 years old. Arthur Brown wiggled his way into the devil’s embrace “two years before Black Sabbath,” he proudly noted. Considering the way “Devil’s Grip” sent the room into a frenzy, I should be so lucky as to make as much fire of my own this year.