It had shaped up as a classic showdown: Irresistible funk meets the immovable audience.
In his first full tour since the glory days of Parliament-Funkadelic, William (Bootsy) Collins, the self-proclaimed No. 1 Funkateer, was faced Sunday night with the task of inciting a dance frenzy between the wall-to-wall tables of the typically stoic Coach House.
Midway through the set, Collins and his eight-piece Rubber Band had dug a visceral groove with blasts of spine-jarring, soulful funk, tapered with smoky blues ballads. But the crowd’s response swelled no further than warm applause, scattered chants of “Boot-say” and a few sightings of gyrating torsos amid the seated throng.
Many of the stops had long since been pulled: Collins and saxophonist/stage manager had repeatedly pleaded for action, and lead guitarist Gary (Starchild) Schider had stripped down to a diaper. But still, nothing. Bootsy had already used up his first costume of fringe, glitter and glitz and retired backstage to change into another. Through Round 1, the House of Stoicism had undauntingly prevailed.
Upon Collins’ return--clad in a silver-studded white robe bearing the likeness of Casper the Friendly Ghost--signs of activity finally began to surface. Upon his shedding the robe--exposing a turquoise, black and silver zebra-striped outfit complete with Bootsy’s usual goofy array of accessories--an enthusiastic handful of fans shed their inhibitions and finally took to their feet.
The epiphany followed soon after.
During the unveiling of a new song, “Funkiest Mothers in the Universe,” Collins, flanked by Schider and Parker, waded into the crowd--a diverse mix of ages, races and styles--slapping hands and urging them to “touch somebody.”
Where earlier attempts to infuse funk into some feet rang stilted and contrived--such as Parker’s command to “free your mind and free your (behind)!"--this gesture of genuine affection shattered the barricade between artist and audience.
The entire less-than-capacity crowd succumbed to dance. One patron, apparently inspired by Schider, dropped his pants. And a young boy wearing a Kid Frost T-shirt jumped on stage and displayed some appreciated moves.
The Coach House had been overpowered by funk.
Even after lulling back into the ballad, “I’d Rather Be With You,” Bootsy’s Rubber Band from that point forward was in command, rekindling the fervor repeatedly, at will.
Although Collins has spent most of the past decade in a hiatus from music, he and his band proved that they could rediscover the soul of P-Funk days.
The music has broadened only slightly from its 1970s mold, and Sunday’s show was occasionally overridden by cliches, gimmickry and ego. But remarkably, the performance never hinted of the pathetic retro-endeavors common among many of Collins’ rock and pop contemporaries who are still chugging away.
Considered against the backdrop of 1990s music, the brand of funk Collins helped to forge assumes a revived relevance. By recapturing the spirit of his original sound, Collins’ performance unearthed the influences he has drawn upon, as well as those he has cast forth. The playful, energized show by turns was reminiscent of Sly Stone, Hendrix, Prince, Living Colour, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Collins’ most obvious devotee, funk-satirist Blowfly.
In addition to the sonic pops from Bootsy’s trademark, star-shaped, glittered beast of a bass, his Rubber Band mates were impressive. The horn section of Fred Wesley and Parker, along with backing vocalist Gary (Mudbone) Cooper, supplied steady doses of soul, while rhythm guitarist Mike Hampton ventured into intriguing dimensions of groove and feedback. Keyboardist Trey Stone and percussionist Roger Hampton offered steady support for Collins’ rhythms, and Schider provided some titillating fretwork--several ill-advised, monotonous solos notwithstanding.
As Collins and his octet were leaving at the end of the 100-minute set, Bootsy led the crowd in chants of “Keep funk alive!”
As evidenced by Sunday’s victory over the reluctant crowd, Bootsy’s Rubber Band is clearly doing its share to fulfill that aim.
For that matter, so are the Limbomaniacs, who opened the show. The New York-based quartet scorched through a pulsating, eight-song set, expanding upon the bold rap-funk-rock hybrid staked out on its critically acclaimed debut album, “Stinky Grooves” (on which Collins also plays).
Although dominated by cover tunes, including a sinewy version of “Brick House,” the Limbomaniacs’ set proved an invigorating prelude to Collins, providing enough punch and spark to overcome the early passivity of the audience.