On Saturday night in Kreuzberg, a packed Prince Charles had punters dancing on the bar, even before midnight. But the ardor wasn’t from a pumping bassline or a thrashing hi-hat. In fact, there were no records spinning at all. Instead, Leroy Burgess and his live band had just started playing his 1983 boogie classic, “Heartbreaker.”
It would have been excusable to forget the scene took place in Europe’s techno capital and not New York City.
It was Burgess’ first performance in Berlin and he was visibly energized. The crowd knew that because he’d mentioned it multiple times already — not including those at the solo performance earlier in the week at Carhartt’s flagship store.
As the crowd crooned the chorus, 64-year-old Burgess pushed hard and harder. The boogie pioneer, who began his career in the advent of the disco revolution with Black Ivory, kept the feverous sing-along fuelled from the first track. While Burgess’ performance wasn’t lacking in energy, it was his vocal strength and sharpness that proved remarkable. Erupting tracks like “You’ve Got That Something,” were a welcome reminder of Burgess’ slow-burning production prowess.
The show, presented by J.A.W. — the Paris-born, Berlin-based promoter crew — was the last in a line of supreme bookings, which included jazz pioneer Pharoah Sanders a week earlier.
Not unlike the previous show, the support was strong enough the fill the venue in itself. While the prior saw Rabih Beaini on support, this time J.A.W. invited Stuttgart selector Motor City Drum Ensemble to soundtrack the evening’s warm-up. He played a set of Burgess classics and a range of other disco staples, to a full dancefloor. Tracks like Convertion’s “Let’s Do It,” that had the crowd shouting and whistling before Burgess even touched the stage.
In Berlin, a city that’s known for its persistent, blossoming techno scene, other avenues like disco and boogie are afforded the room to breathe. That means even some of the biggest gigs on the calendar — like Burgess’ Berlin debut after 40 years — manage to almost miss the radar.
Earlier in the week, when I’d gone to the free-beer-sponsored solo show at Carhartt, people were milling about as if not entirely convinced of the New Yorker’s musical credentials.
That attitude changed Saturday. By the end of the performance, which concluded with a raucous applause, Burgess’ grey, two-toned suit lapel had turned a much darker, sweat-stained ensemble.