[22 May 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
“This is your one beautiful life. You don’t get the chance to go around twice.” Those words belong to “One Beautiful Life”, the opening song of Bruce Sudano & the Candyman Band’s show at the Bitter End. In a way, Sudano is the exception to his own lyrics. As an artist, he’s lived many lives, from a member of New York-based Alive ‘n’ Kickin’ to one-third of Brooklyn Dreams to a singer-songwriter that’s steeped his compositions in west coast pop/rock, country, adult contemporary and, most recently, a becoming fusion of rock, blues and jazz. It’s the latter style that dominated Sudano’s first New York solo appearance in decades. It’s also the style that, based on the Bitter End show, is guaranteed to prompt a thundering ovation or two.
Playing to a packed house, Sudano and his band commenced the eight-song set with a smokey, blues-driven jam. Colin Kupka’s sax lent a distinctive noir quality to the proceedings, summoning a midnight stroll along rain-soaked city streets. Rounded out by Randy Ray Mitchell on guitar, Dave Sutton on bass, Eric Eldenius on drums and Kupka on both sax and keys, Sudano’s band segued into “One Beautiful Life” and anchored the remainder of the set with a flawless, engaging musicality.
“These Shoes” and “Alone” showcased the more introspective side of Sudano’s lyrics. “These shoes are right and tight / These shoes are telling their own story with every step they’re taking”, he sang on the former. He imbued “Why’s it going here, why’s it going there” with fiery, guttural vocal textures. Lyrically and musically, “Alone” conjured a solemn but gripping tone. “Life is hard, nights are long, no one should be alone,” he sang. Coupled with Kupka’s haunting sax solo, Sudano’s performance played like an anguished interior monologue set to music.
“To balance that, this next song is the happiest song I ever wrote,” Sudano quipped after the closing strains of “Alone”. “There are three modulations — I never write modulations — and it’s in a major key.” Sudano and his bandmates then launched into “It’s Never Too Late to Dream”. The song’s reggae-inspired groove brought an appealing rhythmic buoyancy to the evening. “They got no right, why even listen / Let no man put a chain around your mind”, Sudano sang. Indeed, each modulation conveyed a growing sense of positivity and perseverance even in the face of doubt.
Sudano revisited his third solo album, Life and the Romantic (2009), on “A Glass of Red and the Sunset”. He tagged a spoken-word prelude to the song, which amplified the sentiment of the lyrics. “We all got so much to be grateful for,” he said. “There’s that big sun in the sky and we’re missing all the joy.” The music then paused to dramatic effect and Sudano sang the opening lines: “What’s the point of all the madness, non-stop-till-you-drop life / Top of the mountain, king of the hill. Proving yourself to no one.” True to the album version, “A Glass of Red and the Sunset” melded musical sultriness and contemplative lyrics. With the Candyman Band in tow, Sudano’s live rendition easily equaled the magnetism of the song’s studio counterpart.
The most familiar tune of the set was followed by a brand new song. “We’re doing a song we’ve never done,” Sudano warned. “We’ve only rehearsed it a few times.” Perhaps it was the excitement of uncharted territory but the band was particularly energized on “Why Aren’t You Here” and furnished one of the highlights of the evening. Adrenaline seemed to flow through Sudano’s body and into the fret of his guitar as he rocked and swayed behind the microphone. He slowed the song down at the bridge — “Why aren’t you here for coffee in the morning when the world outside is calling” — before resuming the song’s rollicking energy.
A pair of tracks from Sudano’s latest album, With Angels on a Carousel (2013), closed the set. “Things Are Changing” fired on all cylinders, as each band member supplied some extra bite. Commenting on the constant, fast-paced pulse of the 21st century, where attention spans are seemingly measured in milliseconds, Sudano wryly notes, “Even Warhol, well he got it wrong / Turns out 15 minutes is much too long”. Bringing the Bitter End to a hush, Sudano concluded with “Beautiful History”. On both record and in concert, the song’s a personal and poignant tribute that honors Sudano’s 32-year marriage to Donna Summer, who passed away in 2012.
Certainly, Bruce Sudano’s catalog as a songwriter and solo artist is deep enough to warrant an even longer show. However, his appearance at the Bitter End emphasized where he’s going rather than where he’s been. The ardent response from the audience left no doubt that Sudano’s listeners will be along for the journey, wherever he may venture next.