The Midland theater was sold out Friday, but most of the seats were empty all night. You can thank Charlie Wilson for that.
The former lead singer of the Gap Band had most of the 2,200 fans in the place on their feet for two hours, dancing, swaying and singing along to his repertoire of deep-dish funk anthems and silky soul ballads.
Backed by a seven-piece band and four backup singers/dancers, he took the house on a cruise of a career that has had its share of highs and lows. Wilson preached several times about his faith and its role in his survival and rejuvenation. And he put on a show to match his spiritual fervor.
He opened with the Gap Band hits “Party Train,” which aptly set the mood for the rest of the evening, and “Early in the Morning,” and then “Beautiful,” one of his many collaborations with Snoop Dogg.
Wilson, who turns 61 at the end of this month, is a survivor of cancer, addiction and the vagaries of fate. He testified about his perseverance several times, none more evangelically than during “Burn Rubber on Me.” In the middle of that song, the stage went dark, illuminating the lights that embroidered his formal suit and the garb of his singers as they all danced about the stage. His endurance was impressive.
He changed wardrobe several times, and his band filled those moments with some high-octane funk/soul instrumentals rife with keyboards and some tasty saxophone solos. One of Wilson’s ensembles was a dazzling, spangly, sky-blue suit and a matching top hat. His name is Charlie but his middle name is pizzazz.
The set list was a perfect mix of solo material and Gap Band hits, and it fluctuated perfectly among funk, R&B, gospel and soul numbers. It included “My Love Is All I Have,” “Charlie, Last Name Wilson,” “I Still Have You,” “There Goes My Baby,” “If I Believe,” a Grammy-nominated song inspired by a dream his wife had, and “Outstanding,” another Gap Band hit.
The show ended somewhat abruptly. Wilson and his crew of musicians, singers and dancers all took a bow and encouraged the crowd to make a big noise if they wanted another song. Anticipating “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” the crowd obliged.
Apparently, the response wasn’t loud enough. Eventually, everyone vacated the stage, the house lights went on and a crew started breaking down the set. Fair enough. It already felt like something explosive had detonated.