Review – Greg Ginn and the Taylor Texas Corrugators

(Above: The Taylor Texas Corrugators captured onstage via cell phone at the Record Bar on April 7, 2010.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

In person, Greg Ginn couldn’t be more different the songs he wrote for the legendary hardcore punk band Black Flag. The primary architect of the group’s sound, Ginn’s songs were brash, aggressive and threatening. In contrast, Ginn is gentle, soft-spoken and hospitable.

Likewise, the music Ginn is currently making with the Taylor Texas Corrugators couldn’t be further removed. Black Flag’s taught bursts of violence have been replaced by extended, amorphous, improvised pieces.

The mechanics of Ginn’s recent show with the Corrugators at the Record Bar, however, were eerily similar to the rituals he performed more than two decades ago. Ginn pulled into town late Tuesday afternoon and gave a brief, free performance at the Guitar Syndicate music shop in the Crossroads district before heading to Westport for the evening gig.

The three-piece outfit hauled all their own equipment in a white panel van that showed some scars from its many treks across the continent. With only one roadie/soundman in tow, they set up and broke down all their own equipment with an efficiency born from years of routine.

Once all the amps, cords and instruments were assembled onstage, a simple rat-a-tat-tat from Sean Hutchinson’s snare signaled the start of the proper set. For the next 20 minutes, the three bobbed and weaved, trying to make sense of the monstrous sound they were creating. Gary Piazza’s guitar solos were heavily indebted to Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia, but with enough bursts of feedback and weird noises to topple any jam band tedium.

At 55 years old, Ginn was easily older than the combined ages of his two bandmates, but he was very much the bedrock of the group. Anchoring the songs on bass guitar, Ginn hasn’t lost his keen ear for melody. Time and again he tossed out a bass line begging to be fleshed out and turned into a proper song, only to be discarded for the next impulse.

As Piazza wailed and Hutchinson held the backbeat, Ginn closed his eyes and swayed back and forth in unison with Hutchinson’s backbeat. One got the feeling Ginn would be doing this regardless, and was just as happy to play for fans on the road as in a studio or rehearsal space.

Ginn was equally happy to talk with anyone who approached him. He made it a point to catch everyone’s name, listened patiently and answered thoughtfully. Sadly, there were only a handful of fans at the opening end of the Corrugators’ allotted hour at Guitar Syndicate, and about two dozen souls in the Record Bar that night.

When I asked Ginn how he hooked up with the Corrugators, at the pre-show stop at Guitar Syndicate, he shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said softly. “They’re probably into U2.” Turning to me he asked, “Do you like U2?” I confessed that I liked the band, but that their last few albums had been too similar and I had fallen away.

“Everybody likes U2,” he said with weary resignation. “I guess that’s why thousands of people turn out for Bono wherever he goes.”

Moments later, Ginn proved his disdain for the group when Hutchison threatened to start playing “Where the Streets Have No Name” one night during a show. “Is that one of their songs?” Ginn asked. “I don’t even know what that is.”

Ginn could be forgiven – even respected – for not knowing one of U2’s biggest songs. When that single broke in the summer of 1987 he was on the tour, reasserting himself after the recent demise of Black Flag. The road, the van, the do-it-yourself ethos weren’t just part of Ginn’s punk persona; they are the core of who he is.

The night ended as spontaneously as it began. After three songs and 45 minutes, Ginn thanked the sparse Record Bar crowd for coming out, and started packing up. It wouldn’t be long before the gear was hauled out and Ginn was back home, back in the van.

Keep reading:

Go green with Stiff Little Fingers

Dischord finds harmony in D.C. hardcore scene

Review: Carbon/Silicon at the Record Bar

Ever Fallen For The Buzzcocks?


Review: Widespread Panic

(Above: Widespread Panic jam with DJ Logic at a 2008 show in Charlotte, N.C.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Call it hippie-hop. The surprise appearance by DJ Logic late into Widespread Panic’s sprawling set at the Midland Theater Tuesday night set both the evening and the audience on its ear.

Singer John Bell may have been claiming “this ain’t no nightclub” during the jam band’s faithful cover of the Talking Heads song “Life During Wartime,” but Logic’s turntables and the mood of the room said otherwise.

Logic’s scratching added another texture to the Georgia-based jam band’s already expansive palate. As the evening’s wild card, he pushed and challenged the Georgia-based jam band to meet his challenge.

Percussionist  Sonny Ortiz responded by soloing around a loop that Logic provided. Keyboard player JoJo Hermann sprinkled some ‘80s synth sounds into his normal B3 repertoire. The result was a jam/rap hybrid somewhere between Snoop Dogg and Ratdog.

The timing couldn’t have been better. The sextet was three hours into their set and had just wrapped a marathon performance of “Hatfield” when Logic -– who was in town for his own engagement at Crosstown Station -– and his turntables rolled out of stage left. Based on the legend of Fort Scott, Kan., Native Charles Hatfield, the song was the biggest moment so far. With the house lights up for the chorus, the crowd enthusiastically sang along.

As the band made its way from “Hatfield” into “Fishwater,” the crowd predicted the number and erupted. What had been bob-and-weave dancing before turned into some serious getting down. After several minutes of “Fishwater,” the group suddenly doubled the tempo kicked into the Heads number. Panic covered the Heads song “Papa Legba” in their first set, but thoroughly assimilated everything but the signature guitar riff into their own monolithic sound. “Wartime,” however, felt and sounded like the second coming of “Stop Making Sense.”

Although nothing topped their half-hour with Logic, there many other memorable moments throughout the night. A marathon reading of “Diner” primed the pump for “Hatfield.” Hermann channeled Billy Preston during a medley of the instrumental “Disco” and the song “You Should Be Glad.” Earlier in the night, he applied Stevie Wonder’s clavinet sound to “Worried.”

“Barstools & Dreamers” started with a slap bass and slide guitar intro and drew the first signs of fervor. Bell unleashed a guitar solo in that number that sounded like his instrument was strung with barbed wire. The instrumental “Party at Your Mama’s House” was the product of acoustic and slide guitars, slap bass and buoyant percussion. It felt like sipping lemonade on the back porch then kicking a soccer ball around on the beach.

Tuesday night was the band’s first two shows in town, and the Midland was far from sold out. Although the floor was packed, there were acres of empty seats in the balcony. Panic probably could have packed the house by playing a one-night stand, but brevity and efficiency seem to be less important than passion and ability.

When the band finally said good night, they had been performing for nearly four hours (including a 40 minute intermission). Anyone wanting more would have to wait another 20 hours until the start of tonight’s show.

Better Off, Little Kin; Worried, Gradl; Barstools & Dreamners; Jack; Lil’ Drums; Papa Legba (Talking Heads cover); Party at Your Mama’s House; Ribs and Whiskey. Intermission. Let’s Get Down to Business; Disco;  You Should Be Glad, Diner; Hatfield; Fishwater (with DJ Logic); Life During Wartime (Talking Heads cover, with DJ Logic); drum solo (with DJ Logic); Fishwater (with DJ Logic). Encore: Nobody’s Loss; Fixin’ to Die.

Derek Trucks: 15 Nights with the Allmans


(Above: Allman Brothers guitarists (from left) Woody Haynes, Derek Trucks with guest Eric Clapton at the Beacon Theater in New York, March 2009.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The Derek Trucks Band tour started last week, just days after the final show in the Allman Brothers’ 15-night residency at the Beacon Theater in New York City.

Numerous guests, including Dr. John, Chuck Leavell, members of Phish, Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock stopped by to help celebrate 40 years of the Allmans.

“This was the most enjoyable Beacon run I’ve been a part of in the 10 years I’ve been doing it. That first night with Taj Mahal and Levon Helm was great,” Trucks said. “The show on (March) 26th was the band’s actual 40th anniversary. We had no guests and did the first two records in order. That was probably the best show of the run.”

This year was also the 20th anniversary of the band’s first Beacon residency. For nearly as long, it has been rumored Eric Clapton would join the band onstage. This year he finally did, adding extra weight to the run of shows dedicated to founding guitarist and slide legend Duane Allman.

Each night opened with a montage of old photos as guitarists Haynes and Trucks played Allman’s moving acoustic instrumental “Little Martha.” Allman’s daughter was also present for each performance.

“It was a fitting tribute, but especially doing the Derek and the Dominos tunes with Eric and hearing the Allmans’ numbers with Eric was an amazing collision,” Trucks said of the legendary album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” Clapton and Allman recorded together in 1970. “Obviously Duane was the key to that. I don’t think Eric and the band would be playing together otherwise.”

Review: Gov’t Mule

(Above: Mule, meet Radiohead. Radiohead, Mule.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

One fan’s T-shirt asked: “Got Mule?” And for the second time in three months, the answer was “yes.”

Nearly 12 weeks after playing to a packed Voodoo Lounge, Gov’t Mule played for another full house Wednesday night at the Granada in Lawrence.

The classic rock jam quartet opened with the dirty blues stomp of “Brand New Angel” before segueing into the wah-driven “Perfect Shelter.” The show didn’t really start, though, until the surprise cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “If 6 Was 9.” It was the first of many cover treats.

A raucous “Helter Skelter” bumped against a medley of Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” and Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” Earlier in the night, Radiohead’s “Creep” was followed by Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Underfoot.”

There was just as much diversity in band’s original material. Propelled by Danny Lewis’ organ, the intro to “Larger Than Life” recalled Medeski, Martin and Wood. “Streamline Woman,” meanwhile sounded like Led Zeppelin lost in the Florida swamps. And all bets were off for the progressive rocker “Silent Scream,” which encompassed 20 minutes and a drum solo.

The band played a one-hour opening set, before taking a 20-minute break and coming back for another 90 minutes. During that time, most sets of eyes were trained on singer and guitarist Warren Haynes. Haynes also plays in the Allman Bros. and was hailed by Rolling Stone as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. His playing is impressive, but not flashy. It’s like he knows exactly where to put his fingers again and again and again.

Although Haynes took many noteworthy solos, the instrumental “Birth of the Mule” was his tour de force. The 10-minute number opened with Haynes’ delicate, fingerpicked slide playing. Starting like a gentle rain and building into a full storm, the song culminated in a heavy riff reminiscent of Black Sabbath before gliding back to the ground, light as a feather.

The middle-aged, mostly male Mule heads who knew exactly what they were getting into. Although the floor was too packed to dance, everyone seemed content to nod and sway in place.

The night closed with a pair of slide blues rave-ups. Hayes did a great job of replicating Muddy Waters’ early playing style on “Champagne and Reefer.” The tune paired so nicely with Hound Dog Taylor’s “Gonna Send You Back To Georgia” that the two were stretched for 20 minutes.

Setlist: Brand New Angel, Perfect Shelter, Streamline Woman, Larger Than Life ->If 6 Was 9 ->Larger Than Life, Get Out Of My Life, Birth of the Mule, Temporary Saint, Creep, Trampled Underfoot/Intermission/Patchwork Quilt, Helter Skelter, Hunger Strike->Dear Mr. Fantasy->Hunger Strike, Silent Scream->Drum Solo, Like Flies->Mule->I’ve Been Working->Mule/Encore/Champagne and Reefer, Gonna Send You Back To Georgia

Review: Robert Randolph and the Family Band

Above: Robert Randolph persuades the ladies of Albany to shake their hips.

By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

A casino is as unlikely a setting for church as beer employees are a congregation. Yet on Friday night, Robert Randolph and the Family Band snuck 90 minutes of gospel on an unsuspecting crowd that loved every minute of it.

The quintet opened with a jam that sounded like the Allman Brothers dropped into an AME church, and found Randolph grinning from ear to ear, smacking his gum while working the horizontal fretboard of his pedal steel guitar.

The next song up, “I Need More Love,” was propelled by a funky six-string bassline and sounded like a lost Sly and the Family Stone track. Swaying in his seat, Randolph segued perfectly into an instrumental cover of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something” that kept everyone on the dance floor moving.

After the MJ workout, Randolph stood up and strapped on Telecaster for a country-flavored jam led by some call-and-response vocals by his sister Lenesha Randolph. He was quickly back behind the pedal steel, though, for a John Lee Hooker boogie that packed three dozen women from the crowd onstage and invited them to shake their hips. Everyone obliged.

There was no setlist; songs grew spontaneously out of what the group was feeling. Each note was kinetic. They band may not know their destination, but they made sure everyone had fun getting there.

A tribute to Bo Diddley gradually grew out of a groove based on –- what else? -– the Bo Diddley beat. With Randolph playing one of Diddley’s trademark square guitars, the band launched into a thunderous version of the song “Bo Diddley” that worked its way into “Who Do You Love?” Randolph was so enamored with the square axe he played it for the rest of the main set.

A surprisingly subdued journey through the Doobie Brother’s “Black Water” played up the “funky Dixieland” aspect and kept the audience involved.

Randolph has torn apart the pedal steel stereotype of making only lonesome country twang. His playing is equal parts Stevie Ray Vaughan and Stevie Wonder and his music is so infectious one could forgive audience for missing the message peppered throughout songs like “Deliver Me.” In that one Randolph sang “Should I get on my knees and pray?/I know I, I just can’t make it through another day/I got to, I got to, I got to get away/Deliver me.”

The free show was a thank you to Bud Light employees and boosters. While the Voodoo Lounge was only two-thirds full, it didn’t feel empty. The extra elbow room allowed plenty of space for dancing and the crowd used every inch.

The band left after 75 minutes, but the music didn’t stop. An offstage bass solo slowly built into a jam that found the band back in front of the crowd. The closing song of the night sounded like Led Zeppelin and echoed a thought likely ringing through most minds: “Ain’t Nothing Wrong with That.”

Keep Reading:
Robert Randolph and the Family Band at Crossroads, 2009

Concert Review: Wakarusa Music Festival (2008)

Above: The Flaming Lips “Race for the Prize” at Wakarusa 2008.

By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

Arrested Development – Friday afternoon, Revival Tent

The sound of Arrested Development warming up was funky enough to send a crowd scrambling to the Revival Tent and its ankle-deep mud, but the group had trouble keeping them there.

The group’s Afrocentric rap harks back to De La Soul’s daisy age and capped a three-act run of hip hop in the Revival Tent, including Blackalicous and Del tha Funky Homosapien. Their low-key approach had difficulty translating to the half-populated tent, but part of the problem could have been the 15-plus years since the band last hit the area.

Flanked by two vocalists and backed by a guitarist, DJ and rhythm section, MC Speech warmed the crowd up on a couple newer numbers before heating the crowd up with “Fishin’ 4 Religion” and a spirited gospel arrangement of “Tennessee.”

Fans who weathered the bass solo were treated to a karaoke romp through “Billie Jean” and a full-band cover of “Redemption Song.”

Although the set’s energy lagged at times, the greatest hits still sounded, well, great. “Mr. Wendall” is still as fun and timely as it was nearly 20 years ago. The closing one-two of “Mama’s Always Onstage” and “People Everyday” had a sea of smiling faces hoping it wouldn’t be another half-generation until the next show.

Flaming Lips – Friday night, Sun Down Stage

The Flaming Lips performed nearly the same show at their Wakarusa debut two years ago. Damn if it didn’t work just as well the second time.

Flanked by a horde of Teletubbies, the band took the stage as front man Wayne Coyne rolled over the crowd in a giant hamster ball. “Race for the Prize” kicked off the night as confetti, streamers and smoke snowed over the crowd.

It would be easy to get lost in the spectacle of a Flaming Lips concert and forget about the band onstage if the music wasn’t so good. “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” rocked so hard that Coyne himself called it “glorious.” The group funneled their anger and passion for a better America after the November elections into a devastating version of “The W.A.N.D.” that was prefaced by an anti-war airing of “Taps.”

The quartet also got some help from their fans. Coyne encouraged the crowd to get naked during their cover of “The Song Remains the Same” and a half dozen women jumped onstage and took him up on the offer. Spontaneous fireworks from the back of the lawn punctuated the trippy “Pompeii am Gotterdamerung” and heightened the atmosphere of “Vein of Stars.”

The night ended with “Do You Realize.” A million pieces of yellow and orange confetti falling from the sky created a nice cinematic moment that made the song sound even more majestic than usual.

Set List: Race for the Prize/Free Radicals/The Song Remains the Same/Fight Test/Mountain Side/Vein of Stars/Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (pt. 1)/Pompeii am Gotterdamerung/The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song/Taps->The WAND/She Don’t Use Jelly/(encore:) Do You Realize

“Christmas On Mars” – Friday night, the Flaming Lips tent

The chance to catch a band-hosted screening of the Flaming Lips’ seven-years-in-the-making movie “Christmas on Mars” overpowered the need for sleep for many Wakarusa campers.

Shortly after the Lips’ spectacular set on the Sun Down Stage, 200 fans lucky enough to snag a free ticket earlier in the evening were ushered into the band’s large “Eat Your Own Spaceship” tent. Inside, it felt a lot like summer camp. Everyone sat on long wooded benches and roadies handed out popcorn.

After a short personal introduction from lead Lip Wayne Coyne and a longer recorded interview, the film finally started around 1 a.m.

The movie follows the descent of paranoia and psychosis on a crew of astronauts in their Martian space station on Christmas Eve. Multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd plays the main astronaut while Coyne portrays an emerald-hued, antennae-sporting Martian who swallows an asteroid, is detained by the space crew and then forced into the role of Santa Claus.

The results are pretty much what you’d expect from a group with no acting or screenwriting background, paying for their production as they go. Fans started sneaking out almost as soon as the rock-show volume movie started. When I finally succumbed an hour into the movie a herd of fans were seated on the ground outside the tent for the next showing. Live and learn.

Ozomatli – Saturday afternoon, Sun Down Stage

Listening to Ozomatli is like flipping through a National Geographic. The L.A.-based band deftly mixes traditional South American music with African rhythms, hip hop, rock and a splash of Indian raga.

Opening with consecutive songs in Spanish could be an obstacle for some bands, but Ozomatli’s groove needs no translation. Although a moderate crowd had gathered on the lawn in anticipation of the set, each song saw more arms raised as the multitude grew.

The septet kept the energy high for all of its 90-minute set, from the Indian-influenced improvisation on “Believe” to the straight hip hop of “City of Angels” and vibrant African rhythms of “Como Ves.”

Ozomatli is not only proficient with different styles of music, but its members all play more than one instrument. This broadens their palate even further. The clarinet solo introducing gave “Cumbia de los Muertos” a Yiddish flavor, while the horns on “Magnolia Soul” added a New Orleans feel.

The appearance of Tre Hardson, aka Slimkid3 of the Pharcyde, who has been touring with the band since last winter, was an unexpected treat. He led the band through a great cover of “Passing Me By” that drew big cheers from the crowd.

Porter Batiste Stolze – Saturday afternoon, Sun Up Stage

Porter Batiste Stolze was more than 30 minutes into their set when Ozomatli wrapped up. I entered just in time to hear the band roll into a faithful cover of “Like A Rolling Stone” with a sidestepping backbeat that definitely gave the drummer some.

In front of me a father and son stood with their arms on each other’s shoulders, belting out every word with absolute delight. Proud mom looked on, her face radiant.

The Dylan cover gave way to the booty-shaking, Bo Diddley beat of “Not Fade Away,” which, in turn, fed into “Little Liza Jane.” No matter how many gnarled honky tonk guitar licks Brian Stolze threw at his band mates, George Porter, Jr.’s bass kept things funky while drummer Russell Batiste, Jr. shuffled the beat like a Vegas card dealer.

The New Orleans-based trio honed their chops together as in-demand session musicians, and worked Art Neville as three-fourths the Funky Meters until 2005. PBS’ three-part harmonies and musical sensibilities sounds like The Band filtered through Kool and the Gang and given a late-night run on Bourbon Street. They touched on nearly every style of American music in the half hour I heard, and could groove on them all.

Jennie Arnau – Sunday morning, Sun Up Stage

From a distance, Jennie Arnau sounds a lot like Kathleen Edwards. Both have mournful country vocals supported by muscular rock hooks. Up close, however, Arnau’s alt-country sound is less plaintive than Edwards and owes as much to Fleetwood Mac as it does to Emmylou Harris.

Backed by a four-piece band, the blonde South Carolinian performed four songs from her latest album, “Mt. Pleasant,” and one song from each of her last three.

While Arnau’s “Float On” is not a Modest Mouse cover, its buoyant melody should please fans of Edwards, Neko Case and Caitlin Cary. Set closer “You’re Not Alone” is the type of song that Sheryl Crow should be doing. It ended the show on a strong note.

While late morning, closing day festival gigs are never coveted, the two dozen folks who showed up for Arnau’s set seemed genuinely appreciative of the music and pleased by the 45 minute performance that held nothing back. Hopefully Arnau will be invited back at a better time slot and in front of the bigger audience she deserves.

Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk – Sunday afternoon, Sun Down Stage

Dumpstaphunk know how to ride a groove and aren’t afraid to hop on at a moment’s notice with several hundred hip-shaking hitchhikers in tow.

Opening with the aptly titled instrumental “Stinky,” the band quickly drew a dancing crowd to the lawn in front of the stage. By the time their hour-long set reached its midpoint the congregation had easily doubled.

With staccato riffs from his Hammond organ, Ivan Neville led the quintet through songs like “Shake It Off” and “Ugly Truth” that sounded like a streamlined, less bizarre P-Funk.

While vocal responsibilities shifted, they were always soulful. Between songs, Tony Hall would sometimes abandon fellow guitarist and Ivan’s cousin Ian Neville, and drop one string and several octaves to add another bass guitar and even more bottom to the sound.

Dumpstaphunk aired their views on the handling of their native New Orleans in “Meanwhile.” Easily the most fun Hurricane Katrina protest song to date, the band’s philosophy was summarized with the chorus “might as well have a good time/it might be the last time.”

Although, many of its members have worked with Ivan Neville’s father Aaron and the Neville Brothers, Dumpstaphunk is firmly rooted on The Meters side of the family tree.

Keep Reading:

Wakarusa Music Festival (2007)

Wakarusa Music Festival (2006)

Wakarusa Music Festival (2005)

Concert Review: George Clinton heats up cold night

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)

Claypool hits the jackpot on casino debut


By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

A sold-out and animated crowd renewed Les Claypool’s faith Monday night at Harrah’s Voodoo Lounge.

“I’ve never played a casino before,” Claypool confessed to the crowd toward the end of his set. “I was thinking ‘What’s next, is Claypool going to be playing Branson?’”

Judging from their response, most of the crowd would have been more than happy to travel the three hours to see the bass-playing legend. Claypool’s done quite well following his eclectic muse for the past 20 years, and it saw him through this betting-hall debut.

For a shade over two hours Claypool led his quartet – drummer Paulo Baldi, Skerik on saxophone and sometime Malachy Papers collaborator Mike Dillon on percussion – through a bizarre but upbeat mélange of prog funk free jazz.

That looks like a head-scratcher on paper, but it works surprisingly well in concert. Each player has a well-defined role and knows how to walk the line between the experimental and excruciating. The result may not be for the uninitiated, but it is more accessible than imagined.

The quartet hit their stride with the third song, “David Makalaster.” The band stretched the song to nearly 10 minutes, with each instrument adding new textures and layers.

In a way, this was the template of the night. Claypool would narrate a couple verses of a song and then the group would explore every nook and cranny of what it had to offer. While this is the province of many a jam band – and no doubt there were many jam fans present – Claypool has enough variance in his catalog that the songs never felt  the same.

The credit for this goes to the drummers. Their propulsive interplay kept the group moving forward and made the explorations hypnotic, not repetitive. The light-speed synergy between the two percussionists, who were briefly joined by a third, unnamed guest, created the illusion of an invading drum corp. Drum solos are usually the time for a beer or bathroom run, but when Claypool ceded the stage to the percussion, it drew the biggest cheers of the night.

Claypool keep the songbook focused on his most recent efforts with the Frog Brigade and his 2006 solo album, “Of Whales and Woe.” Set closer “D’s Diner” flirted with hip-hop, and Claypool returned for an unaccompanied stroll through Primus’ “American Life.” When the full band returned for a Black Sabbath cover Claypool bypassed “N.I.B.,” which Primus covered several years ago, in favor of “Electric Funeral.”

Claypool has made a career of blending the disparate. He’s wise and faithful enough to know better than to pander to new fans, but he does know how to make the existing ones very happy. Even if it means playing a casino.

Concert Review: Wakarusa Music Festival (2007)

(Above: An areal view of the Wakarusa Nation at Clinton Lake State Park near Lawrence, Kan. in 2007.)


By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Michael Franti and Spearhead, Sun Down Stage

Michael Franti brought his political party to Wakarusa Sunday night. Its platform is both progressive and accessible: share love, be honest, bring the troops home and, oh yeah, have fun.

Franti was backed by his five-piece band Spearhead, and within moments of taking the stage had the masses jumping, waving, clapping and singing on cue. The 90-minute show leaned heavily toward the group’s newest release, “Yell Fire,” and its kinetic energy rarely waned. With barely a pause between songs, Franti’s mix of dub, soul, rock and smatterings of country topped by his spoken/rapped leftist lyrics created a fervor and energy unseen in the political arena by the newest voting generation.

Spearhead’s platform was augmented by a couple of well-placed covers. A medley of “Get Up, Stand Up/Stir It Up” drew great applause, but was dwarfed by the reception for “What I Got.” The Sublime cover was wrapped around a medley of the Sesame Street theme, “The Rainbow Connection” and Cookie Monster’s trademark “C is For Cookie” that Franti said was the high point of a recent gig in San Quinten prison.

The show ended with a stunt guaranteed to put Franti’s already-high approval rating through the roof with at least half the audience when 10 topless, body-painted women joined the band onstage. It was a move no other political party would dare to attempt.

Medeski, Martin and Wood, Sundown Stage

Medeski, Martin and Wood, the most democratically named band since Crosby, Stills and Nash, opened their 80-minute set with a frenzied cacophony of mashed organ keys and frenetic drumming joined by a rock-solid bass line that didn’t let up for 20 minutes.

So much for a soft opening.

Few bands can pull this off without getting monotonous, but more than 15 years of playing hundreds of shows together annually have made the trio the tightest musical battery imaginable. Pockets of melody spring to life from improvisation before a nod of the head or flick of the wrist send the music spiraling off again.

MMW’s music is difficult to describe and impossible to classify. Suffice it to say they are one of the few groups to be greeted with open arms by the traditional fans at the Newport Jazz Festival and the jam fans at Bonnaroo.

Though they were not joined by guitarist John Scofield, who has been touring with the band, no one seemed to mind. A scan of the crowd revealed hundreds of heads locked into the band’s groove, bobbing in unison. Since the trio has no vocalist it’s as close to a sing-along as they’re likely to get.

The Greencards, Homegrown Tent

The Greencards won enough new fans with their mix of melancholy and up-tempo bluegrass music to have their visas renewed indefinitely.

The quartet’s sound split the difference between Old Crow Medicine Show and Allison Krauss and Union Station, but with Krauss’ sense of longing replacing Old Crow’s down-home humor.

Though they performed several original numbers, the absolute high point was a haunting cover of Patti Griffith’s “What You Are.” Anchored by a strummed mandolin and electric bass, singer Carol Young’s voice nailed the heartache and longing of the lyrics. The song built quietly in intensity with an acoustic guitar providing tender sympathy and touches of color from a violin. The applause from that number alone was enough to move the band through customs with no problems.

Keep Reading:

Wakarusa Music Festival (2008)

Wakarusa Music Festival (2006)

Wakarusa Music Festival (2005)

Concert review: George Clinton (2007)


By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City got both versions of the funk Wednesday night in the Crossroads.

New Mayor Mark Funkhouser opened the show with a thanks to all who, “Helped a big white guy get elected mayor.”

He was succeeded at the microphone by a guitarist wearing a diaper who signaled the end of Funkhouser’s reign and the beginning of George Clinton’s.

Initially, the show felt like more of an event than a concert. The sold-out crowd drew from nearly every demographic in the city, creating a festival atmosphere, and “Bop Gun,” the second song of the night, had them all dancing.

Clinton’s troupe, Parliament-Funkadelic, also heightened the atmosphere. Between the Diaper Guitarist, Sir Nose, the Pink Pimp and a back-up signer in a gold shirt and crown, P-Funk has enough personality and characters to rival a Broadway cast. Clinton emerged 40 minutes into the set wearing a black track suit and a shock of bright orange hair.

The show started strong, but it peaked after the first hour. After a strong performance of “The Big Payback” in tribute to James Brown, Clinton tried getting a jam started that went nowhere and took too long getting there. “Dr. Funkenstein” failed to reignite the groove and a trip through the “Maggot Brain,” a proto-metal dual-guitar instrumental and Hendrix-laced bass/guitar/drums jam, pulled the show off course.

Fortunately things got back on track in the final hour. A drastically slowed-down blues arrangement of “One Nation Under A Groove” whetted the appetite for “Flashlight,” which was followed by “Freak of the Week” and “Atomic Dog.”

Clinton closed the show doing the Twist, the Monkey and the Swim to a medley of ’50s rock and roll hits. The man who taught a generation how to dance was reveling in the moves that schooled him.

Even though the show was light on the hits until the end, most people walked out happy. At three-plus hours, there was more than enough to please everyone, even if the best moments came with long intermissions.

Keep Reading:

Feature: George Clinton is bringing the funk

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

Concert Review: George Clinton heats up cold night

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