Fierce. Oh so fierce…
Nona Hendryx came on like gangbusters in Schenectady’s Central Park on Sunday evening. With a crackerjack four-piece band led by guitar hero Ronnie Drayton providing the musical rocket fuel, Hendryx simply funked up the place from the opening volley of “Rock This House” to the final 20-minute encore of “I Sweat (Going Through the Motions)” – which she transformed into a bonafide dance party by inviting members of the audience up onstage to strut their stuff.
And a trio of backing vocalists added an extra jolt to funk bombs like “System” (the best part of a medley culled from her tenure with ’70s hitmakers Labelle) and the bold “Transformation,” the latter also juiced with some serious thumb-poppin’ bass from Warren McRae.
It wasn’t all four-on-the-floor funk, though, and with the determined power ballad, “Winds of Change (Mandela to Mandela),” Hendryx proved that she could slow things down without sacrificing an ounce of dramatic impact.
Another highlight of the night was a mid-set blast through “Let’s Give Love a Try,” which melted into an Al Green medley of the joyous “Love and Happiness” and “Take Me to the River.”
As bottomlessly funky as they were, Hendryx’s songs were certainly not mere, empty-minded dance-floor fodder. She worked a message of racial and gender equality into almost everything she dished out.
“Not everyone wants to hear a message, but it’s my job,” she declared as she launched the band into a go-for-the-throat cover of Mother’s Finest’s “The Truth Will Set You Free,” during which the 65-year-old barefoot singer climbed atop Trevor Gale’s bass drum and triumphantly raised her arms as though she’d just scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.
Nippertown singer-songwriter Bryan Thomas was just as bold and uncompromising as Hendryx, although he had only his endlessly elastic voice and an acoustic guitar to fire up his groove.
Like Hendryx, Thomas – who performs live all too infrequently these days – isn’t afraid to tackle such controversial topics as race and gender, and “Muse” (from his latest album, “One Three Six Nine Lights”) proved to be one of the highlights of his all-too-short, 30-minute opening set.
Nona Hendryx photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Bryan Thomas photographs by Matt Mac Haffie (See more photos from this show here.)
An excerpt form Michael Hochanadel’s review in The Daily Gazette: “‘Winds of Change’ (a Nelson Mandela tribute) was quietly fervent as ‘(Can I Speak to You Before You Go To) 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.”
NONA HENDRYX SET LIST
Rock This House
Labelle Medley: (Can I Speak to You Before You Go To) Hollywood; System; Candlelight
Let’s Give Love a Try
Winds of Change
The Truth Will Set You Free (Mother’s Finest)
I Sweat (Going Through the Motions)
BRYAN THOMAS SET LIST