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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: Del tha Funkee Homosapien breaks down the basics of good hygiene.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star 

Many music fans causally attach the phrase “golden era” to a nostalgic entry point or a favorite genre style. But the music of Del the Funky Homosapien truly represents a lost period of hip hop, before rap was the CNN of the streets or a gangsta’s paradise.

A 20-year veteran, Del’s music eschews many of hip hop’s biggest clichés to focus on more light-hearted topics such as personal hygiene, the public transit system and friends who overstay their welcome. As such, Del’s sold-out, one-hour set at the Riot Room on Saturday night was refreshingly devoid of social commentary or macho posturing. His humble mission to have fun and start a party was an energetic success.Del threw his syncopated punch lines like a fighter, bouncing on his heels with each syllable as if sparring with his mic. His set included classics like “Mistadobalina” and “Dr. Bombay” from his 1991 debut album, but newer tracks like “Foot Down” and “Get It Right Now” show Del’s wit and delivery haven’t slowed down. The hilarious “If You Must” (sample lyric: “this fool’s breath, I mean so bad it’ll melt your ice cream”) was another memorable moment.

Backed by DJ Zac Hendrix and MC Bukue One – whose lengthy set together immediately preceded Del’s – the headliner at times seemed the smallest of the three personalities onstage. As Bukue handled the between-song banter, Del often briefly retreated to lean against a speaker at the back of the stage until it was time for the next song.

Despite allowing him to play the wallflower, Bukue and Hendrix were good foils for Del. Both performers kept the mood light and the crowd moving. At one point, both MCs exchanged freestyles as Hendrix changed up the beats after each turn. One of samples in Hendrix’ arsenal was a snippet of an Isley Brothers song employed by Del’s cousin Ice Cube on his hit “It Was a Good Day.”

After a short dance interlude and Bukue’s puzzling impersonation of Digital Underground’s Shock G during a cover of “Humpty Dance,” Del returned with two tracks that showed despite his comedic tendencies, he is a serious artist. A song from the acclaimed “Deltron 3030” project lead into “Clint Eastwood,” the Gorillaz’ single that featured Del and briefly elevated him out of the underground.

For Del, the golden age is now. It’s the title he bestowed on his new three-disc release and singing along to the familiar chorus about “sunshine in a bag” it’s not hard to agree.

Keep reading:

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(Above: Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band bring the bounce to Ziggy’s in Wiston-Salem, N.C.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

There are several different versions of the story how the six-piece, North Carolina funk outfit Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band came up with their name.

Guitarist J.P. Miller’s favorite rendition involves a fortune telling machine in Las Vegas.

“You know those fortune telling machines where you put a couple quarters in and the guy tells you your fortune?” Miller asks. “Well we found one that wasn’t plugged in. After we got it hooked back up, we put our money in, only instead of giving us a fortune the little piece of paper it spit out just said ‘Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band.’ So there you go.”

The Booty Band has seen several changes in the 11 years since, including numerous line-up changes, different front men and cross-state relocation to Asheville, N.C. Early shows were known to feature belly dancers and bring their own dancing pole.

“Back in the day we had a lot of crazy stuff,” Miller said. “I don’t want to say we were a gimmick band, but these days we put all our focus on the music.”

As a guitar player, Miller grew up emulating Jimi Hendrix and Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel. He said each band member brings his own backgrounds and influences to the ensemble. This means at any moment the music could show flavors of reggae, hip hop, jazz or ‘80s pop.

“Funk is always the focus, but we’ll do whatever it takes to keep people having fun and dancing,” Miller said. “We go nonstop from the first song to the last. We don’t give people the chance to stop dancing.”

The band’s current quest to keep booties shaking started with a hometown show in late July. Doin’ It Hard tour stops include dates in Missoula, Mont., Haines, Alaska and New Orleans.

Veterans of two Wakarusa music festivals at Clinton Lake and this year’s festival in Arkansas, the Booty Band drop their infectious funk on the Bottleneck in Lawrence, Kan. next Wednesday.

“A lot of places we don’t know what to expect,” Miller said. “We’ll often go to a club we’ve never played before and the dance floor will be full because people saw us play a festival or city event or cruise or whatever.”

The tour’s final dates in Asheville and Key West, Fla. around Thanksgiving will celebrate the release of the Booty Band’s fourth album.

“Our last album was a live album recorded in 2008, ‘Greatest Hips Live, Vol. II,’” Miller said. “The idea is to alternate between studio and live albums, so this one we recorded in a Miami studio,”

Miller said the group wanted a warmer analog sound for the album so they recorded directly to tape. This process eliminated the possibility of overdubs and meant the band had to put in plenty of practice so they wouldn’t be wasting expensive tape and studio time.

“We’ll be doing these new cuts all summer on the road,” Miller said. “It’s tightened us up a lot as a band, and people can tell.”

Funk fell out of favor for a while, but Miller is glad to see the genre regaining popularity.

“If you look online, a lot of bands use ‘funk’ in their description. It’s become kind of a buzzword,” Miller said. “Funk also makes you feel good, so why not?”

Keep reading:

Open wide for Mouth

Wakarusa Music Festival: A Look Back

Feature: George Clinton is bringing the funk

Morris Day makes up for lost time

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