Before this show I had been asking myself a question that seems to crop up more and more these days: is it worth going to see a legendary band, when the most legendary bits are missing? Would you go and see _The Revolution without Prince? Is it worth going to a show by The Experience without Jimi Hendrix? The Attractions with no Elvis Costello? Sometimes, the answer in a resounding NO. For many acts touring under a legendary banner, the missing element is often the crucial one that elevated something average to something special. The danger is that you end up with a cover band that just happens to have some original members in it.
But in other circumstances the power and momentum of an audiences love for an artist and their music propels a gig into a celebration more like a big huggy joyfest. And that is very much the case at tonight’s show by The Family Stone.
Sly & The Family Stone are legends and innovators of funk and soul. Along with James Brown they were architects of a music that took Rn’B and Soul music, sexed it up and gave birth to the funk. Sly Stone created a sound with his Family Stone (notably with bass player Larry Graham, who created the ‘slap’ bass sound) that combined the sounds of Motown, Stax, British Invasion pop, Psych-rock, Broadway musicals, Gospel and positive lyrical messages you could dance to. And people tonight have come to dance.
Sly Stone doesn’t tour much these days. He spent time in jail on cocaine possession charges and has led what some call a ‘difficult’ life in the last couple of decades. However, word is he is currently working on an new album with an all-star band to be released next year so who knows what will happen in the future.
Originally booked to play the 1,200 capacity HQ, the show had been shifted to the tiny 200 capacity Rocket Bar, which seemed a crazy move for a band of such legend. But as a friend suggested on the night, people either don’t know who they really are or we really do live in a backwater. So things were going to get snug with wall to wall hipsters, standing disinterestedly around waiting for the funk to happen.
With the fact that the opening act is the explosive Hypnotic Brass Ensemble whose previous visits to Adelaide had been slaying a massive crowd at Womadelaide and as part of last year’s fantastic gig by Gorillaz, I would have imagined they could pulled a crowd this big on their own. If you haven’t caught this eight piece, funky as hell horn section yet, what the hell are you doing with your days? The line-up is a kick-ass drummer and seven brass players who dance, swing, sway and get half undressed while sounding like hippest marching band on the planet. Their set is short but sweet, despite the mix being way to loud for the room and the vocal mic sounding like it was not up to the task. There was quite a lot of plugging the CD they were selling, but great energy, great fun and they certainly did an awesome job of warming up the crowd.
A fairly quick change over and The Family Stone hit the stage, ready to rock the house no matter how small the room is. The tiny Rocket stage meant there was no room for keyboards on it, so they set up on the floor in front of the DJ set up. This sadly meant that all but the very front row missed one of the best parts of the show by not being able to see Alex Davis. As the main vocalist and a great performer, he has a beaming smile, and spent the show high five-ing people, and vibeing it up. So it’s a shame that 97% of the room never saw him. Not that there was a lack of things to watch on the stage. Everybody was moving and grooving, even the three original members (all in their sixties), all a blur of colour and dance. Drummer Greg Errico laid down a funky groove while saxman Jerry Martini wailed away. But the star of the show was Cynthia Robinson on trumpet; what a cool woman. Sixty five years old, kicking ass with a funk band. She was awesome!
They were not messing about with the set list either, which was wall-to-wall their best known songs. Dance to The Music, Hot Fun In the Summertime and It’s A Family Affair came in the first fifteen minutes. Davis introduced Underdog from the 1967 A Whole New Thing album, dedicating it to the Occupy movement. For a song that is over forty years old, it still packs quite a punch.
Of the ‘new’ members of the band, Nate Washington (guitar) was a blur of fingers and effects pedals while attractive vocalist Trina Johnson set some hearts racing and played up to the photographers. Bass player Blaise Sison had some big shoes to fill. Larry Grahams distinctive style and pure funkiness are easily replicated, but Blaise slapped the hell out of that thing and pulled the whole she-bang up to another level. If You Want Me to Stay and M’Lady were next and people were dancing on seats and tables trying to get a better view.
The band took us home with I Wanna Take You Higher, Everyday People, and Thank You. Many of the songs were transformed into great extended jams and the response from the audience was genuine and euphoric. There were some songs I’d like to have heard they didn’t include Stand for one, and I can understand why they skipped Don’t Call Me Nigger Whitey which could be considered a little inappropriate these days.
As with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, the mix was actually painfully loud at times and the DJ seemed to kick in with a undignified haste while they were taking their bows. But those minor quibbles aside Adelaide had just been well and truly funked.