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THE FUNK BROTHERS
at the Wiltern, April 23
Spurred by the success of last year’s Standing in the Shadows of Motown documentary, the six surviving members of the Funk Brothers — the hitherto largely unknown studio musicians who played on virtually every Motown hit from 1959 to 1972 — took their story to the stage before a near-sellout crowd at the Wiltern. Decked out in double-breasted, hot-pink blazers, Funk Bros. drummer Uriel Jones, bassist Bob Babbitt, keyboardist Joe Hunter, guitarists Eddie Willis and Joe Messina, and vibraphonist/tambourine maestro Jack Ashford, augmented by 11 other musicians/vocalists, hammered out 25 hits interspersed with some often-hilarious anecdotes (Marvin Gaye’s misadventure with a shoebox of weed and shag carpeting, for one) in 135 minutes.
While the tour’s trio of featured vocalists — Darlene Love, Maxi Priest and Joan Osbourne (Osbourne’s reprise of “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” from the aforementioned film was one of the evening’s highlights) — turned in thoroughly professional performances, so did the local winner of the “sing live with the Funk Brothers” contest and, arguably, even the five guys randomly pulled out of the pit to warble “My Girl.” Hey, with those songs and a band with those chops behind you, if you can count to four and carry a tune in a paper bag, it’s hard to fall on your aspirations.
Fever-in-the-funkhouse workouts on Shorty Long’s “Function at the Junction” and “Here Comes the Judge” aside, the evening’s foremost moments came from hearing the marvelously interlocking voicings that characterize such “heard ‘em 5,283 times before” bits as the shimmering guitars of the Spinners’ “It’s a Shame” re-created live, as they were originally recorded. A once-in-a-lifetime experience; too bad the seven deceased Funk Bros. couldn’t make the gig. (Don Waller)
PIGMY LOVE CIRCUS
at the Key Club, May 3
It was as if parallel realities collided Saturday night on the Sunset Strip. At the Key Club, a mix of young trendies, curious onlookers, 90210 rejects and the not-quite-beautiful people of Young Hollywood watched as Pigmy Love Circus assaulted them with song after song of relentless crunch and aggression. Indeed, Bill Gazzarri mighta been rollin’ in his grave; wasn’t this the very same stage he had once proclaimed was accessible only to “the foxiest guys”? Far from foxy and twice removed from their immediate audience, PLC nonetheless captivated the throng. It’s an old move they’ve been purveying since they held court at the long-gone hot spot Raji’s: Set up an irresistible monster groove that unites the band and crowd into one head-bobbing mass. It was doubtful at first that it would translate to these kids, many of whom were drawn in by the club’s ad stating that PLC features Tool drummer extraordinaire Danny Carey. (Indeed, Carey drew cheers of approval for every tribal-boogie floor-tom intro.)
The Pigmys held the crowd through their decidedly wrong-minded encore, “Go Suck Dick.” Not all of the Pigmys’ antics were warmly received — vocalist Mike “Scrotum If Ya Got ’Em” Savage’s continual flashing of his privates from beneath his kilt caused a kid to politely yell, “Please quit showing your dick!” Still, Pigmy Love Circus’ unstoppable midtempo grind, Peter Fletcher’s and John Zigler’s blazing guitar leads, and their anthems of camaraderie, winning over hardship and, eh, drinkin’ may finally reach out to an audience willing to accept the band on their own terms. Whether or not the A&R rumored to be present will deem it wise to take the Pigmys’ in-the-can long-player The Power of Beef to the masses is of little consequence, as these stubborn codgers will release it themselves in a matter of weeks. If Carey’s Tool connection continues to be enough to kick-start interest, Pigmy Love Circus may at last get their due. God help us all. (SL Duff)
at the Sportsmen’s Lodge, May 2
Most people think of Cuban music as a tireless, polyrhythmic generator of orgasmic thrills, but Orquesta Aragón’s Friday-night performance at the Lodge’s unusually packed ballroom was all about elegance and understatement. Aragón plays charanga, the most European-sounding of all Cuban group formats. Delicately structured, its trademark sound is anchored by melodious strains of violins, acrobatic flute lines and endearingly old-fashioned vocal harmonies. So pleasing to the ears is this formula that Aragón has left it mostly unchanged for the last 60 years. Needless to say, the original members from the band’s heyday are not with us anymore, but Rafael Lay Jr., son of Aragón’s legendary leader from 1948 to 1982, runs a tight ship. (Due to visa problems, Lay was unable to accompany the group for this tour.) The kind of virtuoso, conservatory-friendly solos that burden most contemporary Cuban groups are kept to a minimum as individual personalities are placed at the service of a cohesive whole. The songs (“Cachita,” “Sabrosona”) are short and sweet. Aragón’s unabashedly nostalgic statement might be a gentle one, but its warmth is powerful and contagious.