The regulars at Myron's Ballroom on Friday night must have thought they had stepped into a segment of "Amazing Stories."
The downtown hall has been a center for traditional ballroom dancing ever since the glory days of Mary Pickford--and a few of the well-dressed couples Friday looked old enough to have sipped champagne at the ground-breaking ceremonies.
So, imagine their surprise when hordes of scruffy rock fans--including lots of Melrose Avenue trendies--started invading their turf shortly before midnight. The attraction: the long-awaited local debut of Trouble Funk, stars of Washington, D.C.'s grass-roots go-go movement.
The show turned out to be a joy, but let's first set the scene. When Myron's house musicians left the stage, the transition began. Rap and funk records started booming from the speakers, and the regulars retreated to the sides of the room to figure out what in the name of Glenn Miller was going on.
After a few minutes, however, some ventured gamely back onto the dance floor to see how their tried-and-true steps would work to the jagged rhythms of discs like Kurtis Blow's "America." Then things began to get really strange.
Around 12:30 a.m., the dance floor was cleared for Trouble Funk's opening act: a veteran tap-dancer, nicknamed Ironjaw, who tried to cap his act by holding six wooden chairs over his head--by his teeth.
The Lingerie, the most consistently interesting rock club in town, put together the Trouble Funk show, but moved it to Myron's for two reasons: the larger capacity and the novelty nature of the room. By 1 a.m., the regulars had gone home (probably racing), but the dance floor was filled as the 10 musicians took the stage.
Go-go music is a lively mixture of the showmanship of a '60s R&B; revue (a tip of the hat here to James Brown), some modified rapping, a heavy African percussion and the call-and-response fervor of a gospel revival.
Rather than five- or six-minute songs, the numbers are long collages that employ snippets of anything from a famous TV show theme to a reference to an unexpected song like Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express."
Some record industry sharpies are predicting that go-go may be the latest black grass-roots sound in an evolution that has included reggae and rap. Island Records, a major reggae booster in this country, is leading the go-go drive.
Along with Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, Trouble Funk is at the center of go-go, and the band's performance Friday was supremely entertaining. Though its songs don't touch on the thematic ambition or rock-roots sensibility of Los Lobos, Trouble Funk exhibited the same likable attitude on stage and generated the same sense of communal celebration in the room.
It's normally off-putting when a band keeps urging the audience to repeat lyrics, but Trouble Funk's disarming spirit made you want to join in. The horn-and-percussion-accented band doesn't aim lyrically for the rhyme consciousness of rap, but simply repeats everyday party-like sayings over and over. "Say what" is the favorite saying of bassist Tony Fisher, the most aggressive of the group's three vocalists.
Typical of the good-time spirit: a musical search for the "Graveyard Groove" that included both traces of the old "Monster Mash" and "The Munsters" TV show theme. The highlight, however, was an extended version of "Drop the Bomb," the group's early '80s dance-club sensation.
The audience reaction for the first 90 minutes was wildly enthusiastic, but many in the crowd began heading home before the end. Maybe the music--built around a few repetitive elements--was wearing thin. More likely, however, was the fact that the audience was wearing out.
Trouble Funk makes even the most reluctant dancer want to move about--constantly. If you plan to check the group out next trip, you'd better be in shape. The best place to go before you see Trouble Funk is a gym or your favorite jogging trail.