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(Above: Bootsy Collins takes the stage in Kansas City, Mo. for the first time in a generation.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Bootsy Collins comes by the nickname Star Child honestly. He plays a light-up star-shaped bass, is famous for his star sunglasses and has a personality so radiant he could be nothing but a star.

But it has also been many moons since the R&B pioneer and right-hand-man in George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic empire has been to town. Before Collins took the stage Saturday at VooDoo Lounge, his MC announced the last time the band was in Kansas City it played a funk festival at Arrowhead Stadium. If true, that would have been in the late 1970s.

Collins made up for lost time, opening with a torrential 20-minute medley of both solo and P-Funk classics. Snippets of “Hollywood Squares,” “Mothership Connection” and “Dr. Funkenstein” had the entire house dancing. Although he would perform some complete numbers, most of the night was basically a medley of his best-known songs and choruses.

The two-hour set only slowed down once, for the ballad “I’d Rather Be With You.” Even then, Collins slipped a few bars of “What’s a Telephone Number” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” It’s incredible this hit was selected from all of Stevie Wonder’s considerable contributions to funk. It’s even more remarkable that Collins and his band made it work.

DSC_4314Several members of the 10-piece unit have played together for decades. Vocalist Mudbone Cooper and keyboard player Razor Sharp Johnson date to the original Rubber Band from the ’70s.

MC and drummer Kash Waddy goes back even further. He played with the Collins brothers in a band called the Pacemakers that was discovered by James Brown in the 1960s. Collins touched on those days during his monologue about working with Brown on the jam “Funk (Making Something out of Nothing).”

Collins was a little too generous in sharing the spotlight. He left the stage for tributes to friends Bobby Womack and Buddy Miles, a cover of Dee-Lite’s hit “Groove Is in the Heart,” on which he originally played bass, and, oddly, Parliament’s “Flashlight.” The performances were fine, but Collins was missed. His personality is huge, and just him being onstage pushed the energy up a couple notches.

Every time Collins left the stage he returned in a different outfit. The best was the mirror-ball tuxedo and top hat he wore to open the show, and the red-sequined Casper the Friendly Ghost gown he debuted last. During “Tear the Roof off the Sucker,” a couple of bandmates helped Collins remove the ghost gown to reveal a Chiefs jersey of Alex Smith underneath.

Dressed as if he were ready to return to Arrowhead, Collins jumped into the crowd and spent about 10 minutes hugging fans, shaking hands and posing for selfies as the band roared on.

When he finally returned to the stage, Collins announced he was auctioning the jersey to raise money for his Bootsy Collins Foundation. The jersey brought $600, and the winner got the privilege of closing down the vamp on “One Nation Under a Groove.”
Setlist: Bootsy? (What’s the Name of this Town) > PsychoticBumpSchool > Hollywood Squares > Mothership Connection > Dr. Funkenstein, Groove Is in the Heart, Don’t Take My Funk, Body Slam > Funk (Making Something out of Nothing), I’d Rather Be With You (including What’s a Telephone Number, I Just Called to Say I Love You), Them Changes, Flashlight, Stretchin’ Out (In a Rubber Band) > Funk (Making Something out of Nothing) > Tear the Roof off the Sucker > Touch Somebody > Aqua Boogie > One Nation (Under a Groove).
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(Above: George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars bust out the “Atomic Dog” at Crossroads KC on May 18, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Star’s concerts at Crossroads KC have become a rite of spring. The troupe has performed there almost every year since the venue opened. It was clear from the first song, however, that something was different at Friday night’s concert.

Clad in a white suite and hat and shorn of his trademark rainbow dreadlocks, Clinton was dressed for business. While he was content in the past to shuffle in and out of his stable of nearly two dozen musicians, this time he claimed the stage on the first number and left no doubt who was in charge.Performing without longtime foil Gary “Diaper Man” Shider, who succumbed to cancer in 2010, Clinton sang with an urgency and intensity.
As if reestablishing his legacy, Clinton pulled the first two songs of the night from the first two Funkadelic albums, both released in 1970. The lyrics to the second number, “I Wanna Know If It’s Good To You” set the tone: “Look out, here I come/right back where I started from.” Later in the night Clinton dug unearthed “The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg,” which dated to his pre-funk doo-wop days in the Parliaments in the late 1960s.
Time has not been kind to Clinton’s voice. The musical pioneer’s raspy growl resembled Tom Waits doing James Brown, but it didn’t keep the 70-year-old from commanding the stage, jumping, shouting, directing and passing the mic to his son, granddaughter and grandson. During extended solos he took a seat by the drum kit, surveying the scene and snapping his fingers.
It took nearly 30 minutes before Clinton dropped the first big hit of the evening. A lengthy reading of “Flash Light” went straight into an equally extensive performance of “Freak of the Week,” best known today as the basis for De La Soul’s hit “Me, Myself and I.” Following “Freak,” Clinton turned the stage over to guitarist Michael Hampton for “Maggot Brain,” the “Free Brid” of funk solos.The All-Stars’ nearly annual appearances at Crossroads may have saturated the market. Despite perfect weather, the venue was only half full to start the weekend. The crowd was a diverse mix of races and ages, ranging from under-21 fans possibly seeing Clinton for the first time to longtime listeners who grew up on P-Funk.

The loose arrangements allowed plenty of room for improvisation, solos and sidetracks. “Freak” featured a detour into the standard “Sentimental Journey” while Clinton’s son and grandchildren each got a chance to showcase their rapping skills. At one point Clinton led the band into a bit of “Bustin’ Loose” in tribute to the recently deceased Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown.

Sometimes the arrangements were too free, though. Despite starting strong, the music meandered in the second half, particularly during “Up for the Downstroke” and “Aqua Boogie.”  Just when the band seemed headed off the cliff, however, they caught second wind at the two-hour mark. “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” seemed to invigorate both the crowd and musicians. A fun romp through “Atomic Dog” found many women from the crowd invited onstage to dance with the band and ended the night.

Keep reading:

Review: Chuck Brown Winds Up Annapolis

George Clinton is bringing the funk

Review: George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars (2009)

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 (Above: The Lawrence band make breakups sound like fun on “Friend of a Friend.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The big names at the top of the bill will draw the most fans, but sometimes the best performances are from lesser-known acts early in the day. In the week leading up to the inaugural Kanrocksas music festival we’ll examine 10 overlooked acts. Below are five acts from Friday’s lineup. On Thursday we examine Saturday’s bands.

FRIDAY

The Joy Formidable (Ad Astra stage, 2:50 – 3:30 p.m.)

The Joy Formidable have toured with the Editors and Passion Pit and turned to Muse and Glasvegas’ producer to help behind the boards for their studio debut. Singer Ritzy Bryan has a touch of Bjork in her delivery and the arrangements hint at what could happen if Jesus and Mary Chain were a pop band.

Fitz and the Tantrums (Main Stage, 2:50 – 3:30 p.m.)

This Los Angeles-buzz band play opposite the Joy Formidable, which is fitting because their music is at the other end of the spectrum as well. Working without a guitar, the group splits the difference between the Dap-tone sound and Maroon 5.

Fourth of July (Ink Unplugged stage, 6:15 6:45 p.m.)

This Lawrence quintet, comprised of two sets of siblings, combined the heartache and pain of “Blood on the Tracks”-era Bob Dylan with the relentlessly upbeat jangle of Camper Van Beethoven. A longtime mainstay of the Lawrence/KC music scene, their work deserves a wider audience.

Kid Cudi (Main Stage, 6:10 – 7 p.m.)

After bringing only a DJ to his Kansas City debut at the Midland theater last year, Kid Cudi has decided to bring a live band on the road with him this time out. Cudi’s studio work places the minimalist introspection of Kanye West’s “808s and Heartbreaks” in more lush, accessible surroundings. It should be interesting to watch Cudi try to translate his headphone music to a festival setting.

Major Lazer (Critical Mass tent, 8:15 – 9:05 p.m.)

DJs Diplo and Switch are best know for helping create the pastiche behind M.I.A.’s three albums. On their own the pair – who met through working with M.I.A. – create some swampy, dubbed-out dancehall reggae. Put Shaggy in a blender with the Bomb Squad, add George Clinton’s showmanship and you’re close.

Keep reading:

10 Must-see bands at Kanrocksas (part 2 – Saturday)

Wakarusa Music Festival: A Look Back

Claypool hits the jackpot on casino debut

(Below: A bonus video from Major Lazer.)

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(Above: Chuck Brown reworks the “Batman” theme at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.)

By Joel Francis

ANNAPOLIS, MD – When you’re as well-known and revered as Chuck Brown, it’s hard going anywhere unnoticed. Especially onstage.

Brown rattled off shout-outs, hellos and congratulations for several minutes before his eight-piece band finally settled down to business for the first of two Black Friday shows at Rams Head Live.

As the reigning Godfather of Go-Go, Brown showed off his guitar chops and sharp horn section with the extended opener “Love Theme from The Godfather.” Brown then put everyone in the holiday mood with a reading of “Merry Christmas, Baby” that lived somewhere between B.B. King and George Clinton. But the dance floor set up to the left of the stage remained conspicuously vacant.

The opening words of “Run Joe” – a cross between the Coasters, hip hop, reggae and a children’s song – unleashed a stampede to the floor. The moving multitude knew exactly when to throw Brown’s catch-phrases back at him, and forced the 73-year-old performer to split his time between the bodies in front of the stage and the spirited congregation on the side.

Go-go is a funk hybrid driven by congas and percussion and a palette wide enough to include jazz, blues, pop and Caribbean influences. Brown helped pioneer the form in the mid-‘70s. Born in Washington, D.C., the genre has yet to catch on beyond the Mid-Atlantic states. Brown’s shows feel like a cross between Parliament-Funkadelic and Jimmy Buffett.

Like Buffett, Brown has a dedicated following who know all the calls and responses and relish the opportunity to feel like part of the band. And like P-Funk, Brown’s band carries a strong groove that can hang on or switch up as often – and quickly – as their leader commands.

The heart of the show was Brown’s magnificent medley of “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “Midnight Sun,” “Moody’s Mood for Love” and the “Woody Woodpecker” theme. These songs were old when Brown started performing them a couple decades ago, but they’ve rarely felt as vital. Brown resuscitated these standards and made them feel like not nostalgic night club pieces but animated dance club anthems. For a moment, it felt a little like how all the stories described the Savoy Ballroom in its heyday.

But Brown’s set isn’t rooted in the past. He invited his daughter, keyboardist K.K., out front to lead the crowd through Lady GaGa’s “Pokerface” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It).” Thanks to the energy of the crowd and spirited performance by the band, these ubiquitous numbers also felt fresh. The band also proved a lesson that contemporary record producers have yet to learn: Pop music sounds infinitely better with a live rhythm section driving the track.

The evening ended with Lil Benny, another guest singer, leading the crowd through the pop and lock and other dance moves. In a year packed with Michael Jackson tributes, the Benny delivered one of the best. His version of “Butterfly” brought the song out of its cocoon.

Although he never left the stage, Brown closed the set by reclaiming the mic and performing “Bustin’ Loose,” his signature song. At 80 minutes, the performance felt a little light, and Brown conceded too much time to the other vocalists, but no one seemed to mind. Besides, another show was always right around the corner.

With the house lights up, Brown ended the night just as it started, talking with the crowd. Although Rams Head Live isn’t much bigger than the Bottleneck in Lawrence, Kan. – the biggest difference is that the room is positioned horizontally with the stage in the middle, instead of vertically with the stage at the end – it was going to Brown a while to reach the dressing room. And he was going to enjoy every moment of the journey.

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(Above: George Clinton is an “Atomic Dog.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

For the third consecutive spring, George Clinton brought the Mothership Connection to Crossroads KC.

Unfortunately, Friday night’s two-and-a-half-hour set could never build momentum and was capsized by too many limp numbers. Although the repertoire hardly changed from previous years, the band’s setlist-free jams were a double-edged sword. Songs were either exciting or went nowhere.

Clinton’s P-Funk All-Stars are less a band than a troupe. At one point there were six guitarist stretched across the front of the stage. Everyone was in costume. There’s axeman with the rainbow-colored Afro, angels out of a Victoria’s Secrets ad, Diaper Man Gary Shider, another male guitarist in a wedding dress and veil, several backup singers in Mardi Gras masks and Sir Nose, the acrobatic agitator in a white fur coat.

In the middle of it all was Clinton himself, clad in a black jacket and pants, sporting his trademark Crayola-sponsored headpiece and a necklace that looked like it was borrowed from Flava Flav.

While the depth and diversity of the ensemble is a great strength –- musicians can cycle on and off stage leaving fresh fingers and never-ending jams -– it is also an Achilles heel. For a band so tight, the performances tend to sprawl. And while his democracy is to be commended, Clinton gives each of his performers often unnecessary time in the spotlight. I’d much rather have heard “Bop Gun” than watched Roller Girl dance and sing the next-to-closing number.

The night got off to a solid start with perennial opener “Funkentelechy” and the instrumental “Cosmic Slop.” The evening’s high point came early. The 15-minute version of “Flashlight” featured a pair of wicked horn solos and the band demonstrating why Clinton’s songs hold up so well over a generation later.

“Freak of the Week” initially seemed like a great follow-up, but despite incorporating parts of “Sentimental Journey” and a scat-vocal interlude, the song was stuck in a slow pace that never really got off the ground.

This set the pattern. The dynamic “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” was part of an uber-medley with “Up For the Down Stroke” a sax solo and a tribute to James Brown. It was sandwiched by an unusually mellow “One Nation Under A Groove” and the turgid “Bounce 2 This,” which was little more than a bassline and repetition of its title.

At the start of the night, the two-thirds-full lawn was ready to dance and get down, but the crowd started thinning during “Maggot Brain,” the instrumental tour de force that appeared an hour into the set. By the end of “Bounce 2 This” the lawn was empty past the sound tent, save a few pockets of dedicated dancers.

The night ended on a high note with “Atomic Dog,” but by then it was too late. Too many stops and starts had killed the night’s groove. Fortunately, everyone will likely be back next spring to redeem themselves.

Keep Reading:

Feature: George Clinton is bringing the funk

Concert Review: George Clinton heats up cold night

Concert review: George Clinton (2007)

Concert Review: George Clinton, May 6, 2005 at the Beaumont Club

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Brenda Holloway – “Every Little Bit Hurts,” Pop #11
Motown may have been “the sound of young America,” but this song was clearly aiming for an older audience. Lee Cobb’s writing is obviously influenced by the Burt Bacharach/Hal David team, but Brenda Holloway’s pristine, nuanced delivery elevates the song above imitator status. Her restraint is the key – Holloway trusts the melody and structure will carry the song further than her lungs. She was right. Although the style is closer to supper club than street party, Holloway and Cobb inspired a legion of artists to take it on.

The Spencer Davis Group, fronted by a young Steve Winwood, had a hit with it in 1965. A year later, the Small Faces tried their hand on it. Funkmaster George Clinton turned the song into a duet in 1972 when he performed it with Diane Brooks. Alicia Keys released a more faithful version on her 2006 live album “Unplugged.” Proving once again there were few musical stones they wouldn’t turn over, The Clash recorded a cover in the early ‘80s. Fellow English punkers The Jam also cut a version about the same time. — by Joel Francis

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George Clinton in concert

By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

George Clinton’s show hasn’t changed much over the past several years, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to attract new fans.
Saturday night’s show at Crossroads KC marks the third time Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic have performed in Kansas City in the last four years, and each time the legion of hands branded with an “X” – signifying under 21 – is prevalent.
The forecast of a chilly evening – temperatures dipped into the 40s – and rain didn’t keep the lot behind Grinders from filling up over two-thirds with a crowd that cut through every demographic in the city.
The band opened with “Funkentelechy” followed by “Bop Gun.” Clinton wouldn’t emerge in his rainbow dreadlocked-glory for another half hour, but his crew of funksters were more than capable of keeping the music and spectacle rolling in his absence.
Parliament-Funkadelic shows may be closer to a three-ring circus than a traditional concert. Onstage at any moment are longtime band leader Garry “Diaper Man” Shider and backing singers dressed like roller girls and buffalo soldiers. Toss in characters like the Poo Poo Man, a pimp in zoot suit who lead the band through a James Brown tribute they’ve been doing since before Brown died, and Sir Nose, a dancer and agitator, and you’ve got a cross between Cecil B. DeMille’s cast of thousands and Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.

Of course having a first-class catalog doesn’t hurt either, and Clinton’s stable is definitely up to the task. The philosophy is simple: if you have something to add to the song, go out and play it. If not, get off the stage and make room for someone who does. The result can be up to six guitars wailing away on the metal instrumental “Maggot Brain” or horns and keyboards leading a charge through “Tear the Roof off the Sucker” and “Up for the Down Stroke.”
Though the predicted rain never appeared, when the wind picked up around the two-hour mark the crowd thinned so quickly it was like watching time-lapse video. The hearty souls who stuck around for the final hour were treated to a devastating medley of “Standing on the Verge of Gettin’ It On,” “Pumpin’ It Up” and a cover of Chuck Brown’s go-go classic “Bustin’ Loose.”
The evening ended with Clinton and nearly all of his two dozen musicians onstage for “Flashlight” and a ferocious “Atomic Dog” with several audience members dancing up alongside the group. There were so many people onstage it was hard to differentiate the band from the audience. But maybe that was the point. We were “One Nation Under A Groove.”

Concert Review: George Clinton, May 6, 2005 at the Beaumont Club

Feature: George Clinton is bringing the funk

Concert review: George Clinton (2007)

Review: George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars (2009)

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