If there’s one thing to note about Atlanta’s soul man Curtis Harding, it’s that the man can pack out a room.
The last time Harding performed in New York he took the stage at Mercury Lounge, playing songs from his brand new album Soul Power to industry folk and new fans. A year and a half later, that fan base has grown large enough to fill Brooklyn Bowl, because New Yorkers crave the sort of “sloppin’ soul” that Harding masters.
Harding’s charm lies in his penchant for gospel music juxtaposed by the hard edges of Atlanta’s garage rock grit. On stage, he confidently crooned into his retro microphone and interacted with the crowd between songs. Numbers like “I Need A Friend,” “Freedom” and “I Don’t Wanna Go Home” displayed the band’s definitive rhythm of driving guitar harmonies, bright billowing brass melodies sprinkled with call and response flair. The variety of vocal tones Harding displayed, from sultry and smooth to raspy and harsh, conveyed the range of emotions characteristic of soul music. The equal parts sexy and cool would have made as much sense in the heyday of Stax Records as it does now.
Aside from exacting instrumentation, Harding’s articulation of themes like love and restraint registered to a room full of millennials a little too well-versed in the trappings of desire, by and large fueled by Tinder, Ok Cupid and other dating apps responsible for hasty hookups. “I said you’re moving too fast baby, scares me every time” he sang on “The Drive” before instilling hope via “Heaven’s On the Other Side.” Later on, “Beautiful People” stood on its own pedestal with a lush counter-melody played on the trumpet, but what took the cake was the band’s closing number, “Keep On Shining,” offering a terrific transition to Questlove’s “Bowl Train” residency of eclectic jams that shortly followed, fodder for insatiable fans who could give two shits about work the next morning.
– Melissa Caruso