It was a shambolic, funky night at the Echo.
This is what was supposed to happen: Stones Throw had arranged a shindig for the release of Toechizown, the new album by DâM Funk, LA's
self-procclaimed [see comment below] “Ambassador of Boogie Funk.”
Mr. Funk was supposed to have gone up at 11, after an announced bill that included sultry underground soul songstress Jimi James, Detroit's turntablist Kyle Hall, and a set by DâM's side-project (or is it main project?) Master Blazter.
It didn't quite work out like that.
By 11 Kyle Hall had just gone up and the Echo felt a little empty. Stones Throw had arranged for a custom T-shirt maker to set up shop by the merch table and a large part of the crowd was listening to B-side DJs in the smoking tent. Hall is impressive at the decks in an off-the-cuff, mix-and-match kind of way, and, though he failed to ignite a full-on dance party, the slowly swelling crowd seemed to appreciate his set.
A special treat, and a nice way to establish one degree of separation with the legends of 1970s funk, was the presence of legendary artist and illustrator Overton Loyd, long-time art director for George Clinton and his P-Funk empire. The man who brought to the page unforgettable Funkadelic characters such as Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk placed his paper and pastels right at the edge of the stage and proceeded to dazzle the audience with beautiful live sketches of the performers. The affable Loyd was surprised by a guy who had tattooed Sir Nose on his bicep. “You're crazy, man,” Loyd laughed, somewhere between bemused and flattered.
After Hall's set, the unmistakable figure of Stones Throw honcho Peanut Butter Wolf, wearing his little hat and his burgundy Cossack-style shirt with the authority of a man who makes things happen, took the stage. Given the hour and the (always absurd) 2AM mandatory closing time, we expected him to be there merely to present the headliner. But it wasn't DâM Funk time yet.
We were treated (and it is always a treat) instead to a short set of videoscratching by PBW, well received by the now capacity crowd of the usual Eastside groovers who follow the label.
PBW's video jam of synth-heavy 80s soul (a young Prince, etc.) went over well, but he clinched the deal with a finale involving a dancing little kid. So cute–you can never go wrong with dancing little kids, and the crowd (particularly some ooohing and aaahing childbearing-age ladies) ate it up.
Finally, DâM Funk took the stage, backed by Computer Jay and Jay-1, his Master Blazter cohorts, and opening act Jimi James as backing vocalist. DâM (pronounced “Dame,” short for his government name “Damon”) cut a great figure onstage, even before strapping on the Roland keytar he played for most of the show. With his signature curls reined in under a thowback black cap and his pilot shades, he did not look unlike Ike Turner, which is pretty uncanny given that Jimi James behind him looked like a harder Rihanna playing the Angela Basset part in What's Love Got To Do With It.
But DâM is a lover, not a fighter, even if he carries on during a whole song about how he's going to “Kill this muthafucka, today.” The sentiment is pretty incongruous with all the luuuuurve jams and the slightly cheesy spirituality of the rest of the material (cue lo-fi light show of stars: “Look inside yourseeeeeeeelf,” we are instructed). The stage is drenched in red light throughout–given the singer's permanent sunglasses, love-pained grimace, and vocal range, sometimes it felt like watching Stevie Wonder play a Dutch bordello.
Eventually, the keytar was produced, the cap was removed, and Master Blazter (for it became apparent after a while that this was not the “proper” set but the presentation of DâM's new collective project) kept serving dish after dish of retrofuturistic synth funk. DâM is no Cole Porter, though (much of his new album, in fact, is purely instrumental)–his lyrics are either endlessly repetitive, or double as band introductions or complaints about the sound and the equipment.
The Master Blazter set, like the album, could have used some editing. DâM doesn't seem to care: he's even named a song “My Funk (Goes On and On).”
He stopped for a little to show his breakbeat skills on the drums and to announce that “This is the hip hop generation and I'm just a Funkster within it.” And then the singer grabbed the mike and (we're pretty sure) told the audience there would be an intermission with the Funkmosphere DJs after which he'd be back to present the album. Except it was 2AM and after a few minutes the lights went up.
A little anticlimactic, yet a funky time was had by all.
BONUS TRACK!: “Kyle Hall,” by Overton Loyd