Monday, October 28, 2013

The Next Round - Episode 5: Johnathan Rice

Episode 5 is finally here.  After battling a cold and beasting a comedy contest, I knew it was time to shove this one out the door.  Speaking of which, we actually recorded it outside, so while it's noisier than the previous episodes, it's a good one.  Johnathan Rice, solo artist, as well as half of Jenny & Johnny, sat down with me before his gig at Mercury Lounge.  We covered his entire music career, including his recent LP, Good Graces.  A song on the record, "Lou Rider," was inspired by Lou Reed, who sadly passed away yesterday at age 71.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

George Clinton Brings His Family & Bernie Worrell to B.B. King's

Friday night's George Clinton show at B.B. King Blues Club was scheduled to start at 8:00, so I figured I'd be safe arriving around 7:45.  I'm glad I got there early though because I crossed the threshold just as the Bernie Worrell Orchestra was starting "So Uptight (Move On)."  I hurried to the floor to watch.  The round of horn solos seemed a little gratuitous so early in the set, but then Bernie took charge with a super-funky ride on his custom purple Little Phatty Moog, teasing "Do That Stuff" at the song's end.  "This next piece is about bullies," he announced, and detonated the volatile "Thug."  After a dank bass solo from Scott Hogan, Shlomi Cohen took the reins with some staccato sax.  Normally a soloist will have their eyes closed or raised towards the sky, but not Cohen, who kept his wide open, staring straight into the crowd.  Worrell whipped up a warped take on "Angels We Have Heard on High" before returning to "Thug," hints of some James Bond spy shit seeping in from the guitars.  Bernie took a moment to acknowledge the Orchestra, and then welcomed Dr. Funkenstein himself, George Clinton.  The old friends removed each other's hats as they embraced.  Prepping us for an explosion, Clinton spoke the metered lines of "We Do This" before turning to Bernie and commanding, "Do it to 'em in their earhole.  Stick it in."  But no sound came out of Worrell's keyboard.  As he checked the connections, George began reciting the lyrics to "Red Hot Mama," hoping Worrell would be able to jump in soon enough.  The issue remained unresolved, so he soldiered on with his verse from Wu-Tang Clan's "Tar Pit."  Eventually, the sound was straightened out, and they rode on with "Red Hot Mama."  It sure looked good to see Bernie and George up there together.

While the Beekman Beer Garden show in August was geared towards Funkadelic acid rock, the B.B. King's gig more closely resembled one of George's Family Series releases: a cavalcade of funkateers taking turns at lead vocals, backed by the mighty mob.  Clinton was onstage from the start, guiding the the band through "Standing on the Verge of Getting It On."  When they transitioned into "Pumpin' It Up," Bernie reappeared to comically towel off Michael Hampton during his guitar solo.  George had a ball on "Pole Power," a riddle chant reminiscent of "Butt-a-Butt," where he proclaimed, "What is a pipe but a pole with a hole in it?  A pole is pipe with no hole."  Kendra Foster came forth to sing "Bounce 2 This," and Ricky Rouse enlisted his mic stand as a guitar slide on a raging solo.  By then, Bernie had found his way into the keyboard corner just in time for "Atomic Dog."  Unfortunately, B.B. King's speakers are suspended from the ceiling, so the doggy ditty lacked the earthquaking bass that stopped hearts at Beekman.  However, that didn't stop the same dancing white guy from finding his way onto the stage yet again.  While "Flash Light" may have inspired Sir Nose to dance in the spotlight, a more inspirational sight could be spotted in the shadows, as keyboardist Danny Bedrossian earned some pats on the back from an impressed Worrell.  Mid-"Flash Light," George suppressed the band: "Wait a minute.  Hold it.  All the way down."  He took the opportunity to invite his granddaughter Sativa to the stage to perform her love letter to marijuana, "Something Stank."  She was hardly the only weed fan in the room.  Richie Nagan lit up a spliff that made the rounds stage left, and as George traversed the front of the stage, he took a hit from everything the crowd offered.  He puffed on a pipe, toked on a joint, and blazed on a blunt.  I half-expected to see someone hand him a bong.  The band may have been stoned, but they took no time to chill, revving up "Knee Deep" and giving literal meaning to the term after-burners.  My favorite P-Funk jams usually come out of the "Sentimental Journey" segue back into "Knee Deep," and this night was no exception.  I've dubbed the sound "melodicophony."  Everyone's soloing at once, so all these layers keep spewing out, but amidst all the anarchy, there's melody.  It's beauty in chaos, and it's why I go to P-Funk shows.  Then Mary Griffin came out to sing "Crazy," and the band proved they could also hit a groove's sweet spot, evident in the grin plastered on bassist Lige Curry's face.  But no one was smiling more than George.  Find me another 72-year-old who looks even close to having as much fun.

And if he was smiling then, you should've seen him next.  "This is my motherfuckin' idol coming out here now," Clinton said, ready to welcome Rakim to the stage.  "I'm like a little baby in a candy store right now," George gushed giddily.  Rakim wasn't ready, though, so George killed some time by having the band start up the newest Funkadelic song, "Am I Funking 2 Hard 4 U?"  Once Rakim emerged in his Yankee's cap, George silenced the band.  The backing track to "Microphone Fiend" played over the PA, and Rakim dove in.  The crowd's response was lackluster, but I think we all expected the band to be providing the music (Bernie and Bedrossian did add a little live flavor over at the keys.).  It was more a private concert for Clinton than anyone, but it was a joy to watch his excitement.  Rakim revealed that he grew up listening to his older brother's P-Funk records, specifically being taken by the strange lyrics.  "My words aren't as crazy as his," admitted Rakim.  "Bullshit," laughed Clinton.  Rakim was told that "Follow the Leader" was George's favorite, so he obliged, with George playing hypeman until Rakim dropped out completely, unexpectedly leaving him on his own.  "Hey, you know it better than that, dude bro," said Rakim.  "This is my debut," giggled George.  Rakim finished his mini-set with "Paid in Full."

While it was nice to see Rakim, it essentially derailed the show.  How would they get back on track?  Pandemonium.  They ignited the fiery Funkadelic noisefest "Alice in My Fantasies," with Bernie on lead.  Shifting gears halfway though, Bernie gave the audience a musical history lesson, demonstrating the links between "Burning Down the House," "Them Changes," and "Genius of Love."  "Everybody is related.  If you want to differentiate, that's your ass.  Your stupid ass," Worrell warned.  They catapulted back into "Alice," and Bernie left the stage smiling.  "Y'all gonna be seeing a lot more of Bernie Worrell with us from now on," pronounced George.  The "Thumpasorus" medley featured George's grandson Tra'zae rapping "I'm Dougie," followed by Tra'zae's father Trey Lewd providing a rap of his own.  It had been a long time since I'd seen "Mothership Connection," so I was itching for a ride, especially one with a tease of "Everything is on the One" and some nice crooning from Steve Boyd during the "sweet chariot" section.  As Garrett Shider began "One Nation," George said his goodbyes and waved to the onlookers.  Clinton and his caravan return to B.B. King's on March 4th to give us more of what we're funkin' for... hopefully with Bernie in tow.


So Uptight (Move On) > Do That Stuff (tease) / Thug > Angels We Have Heard on High (tease) > Thug / We Do This / Red Hot Mama (tease) / Tar Pit > Red Hot Mama


Standing on the Verge of Getting It On > Good to Your Earhole (tease) > Pumpin' It Up > Bustin' Loose (tease) > Pumpin' It Up > Standing on the Verge of Getting It On > Get Off Your Ass & Jam (tease) > Pole Power* > Bounce 2 This / Atomic Dog > Free Your Mind & Your Ass Will Follow (tease) / Bernie Worrell Solo / Flash Light > Something Stank > Hard as Steel > Flash Light / (Not Just) Knee Deep > Sentimental Journey > (Not Just) Knee Deep > Rubber Duckie (tease) / Crazy / Am I Funking 2 Hard 4 U?* / Microphone Fiend / Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop) (tease) / Follow the Leader / Paid in Full / Alice in My Fantasies > Burning Down the House (tease) > Them Changes (tease) > Genius of Love (tease) > Alice in My Fantasies / Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker) > Bootzilla (tease) > Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples > I'm Dougie > Trey Lewd Rap* > Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples / Mothership Connection (Star Child) > Everything is on the One (tease) > Mothership Connection (Star Child) / Ain't No Party Like a P-Funk Party (tease) > One Nation Under a Groove > Cholly (Funk Get Ready to Roll!) (tease) > One Nation Under a Groove

Friday, October 25, 2013

Steve Kimock Searches for the Sound at Brooklyn Bowl

When I first saw Steve Kimock in February at Stage 48, he had my head bobbing to some furious funk.  Then he peeled back the top of my skull with a free-form improvised journey in the middle of a cover of "I Feel So Bad."  So when I heard he'd be stopping by Brooklyn Bowl on his fall tour, I knew I had to go, even if I was getting sick.  For this go-round, Kimock was accompanied by Bernie Worrell and John Morgan Kimock, reprising their roles on keys and drums, respectively, as well as Ron Johnson (Karl Denson's Tiny Universe) on bass, Ryan Cavanaugh on banjo, and Josh Dion on drums (both of Bill Evan's Soulgrass).  The band took the stage without pageantry and eased into an atmospheric nebula.  The gases solidified into the African guitar lines of "It's Up to You," which tinkled along brightly until Bernie ripped them open with some screechy Halloweenish sounds from the keys.  Worrell proceeded to layer a p-funk groove on Johnson's backbone, and then I heard my new favorite sound: distorted electric banjo, compliments of Cavanaugh.  (Check out the video below.)  It was like finding a venomous snake slithering through your normal bluegrass.  Kimock returned to Africa for the end, bringing the tune to its finale at 31 meandering minutes.  

If the opening odyssey was any indication, it was clear that Steve and his friends were searching for something.  While the first half-hour definitely had its moments, experimentation was favored over cohesiveness.  Would they uncover a jam on the level of that revelatory mind-melter that spawned from "I Feel So Bad?"  Set against the swirling lights on the brick walls of the Bowl, Bernie dropped into a slinky organ melody, teasing "Merrily We Roll Along" in the process.  Steve switched to his Stratocaster and followed the funk into "TLC."  After funking around, the band opted to show off its softer side with "Surely This Day."  The calm didn't last long though, a storm emerging in the form of a tandem drum solo from John and Josh.  Though hidden in the shadows, Dion was a treat to watch, his face contorting with each strike of the sticks.  Following the drum jam, Cavanaugh stepped in with a couple of bluesy licks before turning out some distorted Hendrixian madness.  An hour and eight minutes into the set, Bernie greeted us with the first vocals of the night, demanding, "Put your head into it," in "There's Gonna Be Butter."  A bit of slide guitar from Steve invited Bernie to close out the set with the Funkadelic charger "Super Stupid."  Kimock grabbed a mic and sat down on a stool in the center of the stage.  "Oh, no.  They gave the guitar player a microphone," he teased.  "We'll be back after a short break."

The band returned for set two with "Thing One," which lasted almost 21 minutes, but it lost some steam as it went on.  Steve strapped on his Strat again, revving up a juicy "5 B4 Funk" that had fans crying "Woo!" during the rests.  Not merely an expression of excitement, it was a call to action for the Wizard of Woo to do his funky thang.  Bernie rocketed to the moon with a sci-fi solo of laser blasts, licking at the air with his pink tongue.  It was the highlight of the night, and Steve knew it, mouthing the final "Woo!" with the crowd.  He moved to the slide guitar for a mournful "Many Rivers to Cross" that built into a triumphant crescendo.  Bernie was anxious to get crossing those rivers, and fired up "Take Me to the River."  He enlisted the audience to sing back to him, alternating between girls and guys, and brought everyone together for the last few rounds.  "You guys are great!  You're hired!" he smiled at its end.

The soundman signaled that it was over.  With set two 25 minutes shorter than the previous excursion, the fans were eager for more, pleading to Steve, who looked like he wanted to continue.  But time-wise, we were encroaching on ?uestlove's Thursday night Bowl Train DJ set.  ?uest's voice came over the PA, re?uesting a round of applause for Kimock and Worrell before blasting out some thumping hip-hop.  It was an awkward ending, especially because we were all still waiting for that next level shit.  Hopefully we won't have to wait eight more months.

(Call to tapers: If anyone has a recording of the show, please let me know in the comments below.)

Live & Kickin'

Hey, everybody.  I just wanted to post an update in case you thought I may have been kidnapped or eaten by a mako shark.

Two weeks ago, I stayed up all night for a marathon podcast-editing session on the Johnathan Rice episode.  We recorded the interview outside, and it's been a chore trying to get it listenable enough that I feel comfortable posting it.  Well, burning the candle at both ends got the best of me, and I came down with a cold the following day. Despite my weakened immune system, I went to Brooklyn Bowl to see Steve Kimock.  Too exhausted to write the review that night, I went to bed.  I had to go to work the next day, which ended up being an overtime shift.  Then I went to do an open mic.

I'd just been selected to compete in the first round of the New Comedian of the Year Contest at Magooby's Joke House in Maryland.  
The show was October 17th, smack dab in the middle of CMJ Music Marathon, so that was off the table for this year.  Still ill, I did as many open mics as I could fit into the week.  The good news is that I rocked it so hard at the show, I've made it to the finals on December 11th (Get tickets here.).

I'll be taking the weekend to focus on editing some upcoming podcasts, including the aforementioned Johnathan Rice, which will go up either this weekend or early next week.  
The Kimock review will be going up later today.  Tonight I'll be at B.B. King's for George Clinton with special guests Bernie Worrell and Rakim, which should be p-funktastic.  Expect a review sometime tomorrow.  It's been quite the adventure determining exactly how to juggle my roles as comedian, corporate video editor, podcast host, and blogger.  Thanks for your support along the trip.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds Get Sweaty in the Jam Room

In the bowels of Milk Studios lies a secret venue known as the Jam Room. Neon sex shop signs illuminate a maze of pipework suspended from the ceiling.  The vibe is basement house party, right down to the partygoers sipping from Solo cups and beer cans.  While the basement is typically the coolest part in the house, the Jam Room was sweltering, packed to the pipes with press, friends, and contest-winners all there to celebrate the release of Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds' latest EP, Fight.

The show began like the other times I've seen them, the Dirty Birds firing off their horn-drenched intro jam.  Arleigh "Sister Sparrow" Kincheloe usually remains backstage before her swaggering entrance, but with no place to hide, she joined the boys, spiritedly banging on a cowbell.  Arleigh approached the mic and asserted, "I need y'all to clap your hands with me now," before launching into "The Long Way," the EP's hard-hitting single.  They followed it with a new tune, "Don't Be Jealous," which proved a nice springboard for some squealing interplay between guitarist Sasha Brown and harmonica-player Jackson Kincheloe. "We're only three songs in; I'm sweating my ass off," admitted Arleigh, grabbing a towel.  Where many would've taken the chance to cool things down with a slower song, the band cranked up the temperature with one of their most fiery numbers, "Make It Rain."  "Mama Knows" brought things to a soulful simmer, Arleigh powering through a hint of laryngitis.  Her cousin Bram drumrolled into the night's standout, "Boogie Man," which culminated in Arleigh clanging her tambourine against the pipes above.  "Borderline" was another vehicle for Jackson's freight train harmonica, and trombonist Ryan Snow transported us to New Orleans for a steaming serving of "Crawdaddies."  "I want y'all to please be advised, it's a low hanging ceiling. You too, Dirty Birds," admonished Arleigh.  About to embark on a clockwise tour of the US, the band fittingly charged into a "Road Trip" that had everyone chanting and clapping against their Solo cups.  Fight may be a misnomer for the EP.  Your ears will welcome it without hostility.

SISTER SPARROW & THE DIRTY BIRDS - 10.03.13 - MILK STUDIOS JAM ROOM (48 minutes, 27 seconds)

Intro > The Long Way / Don't Be Jealous / Make It Rain / Mama Knows > Boogie Man / Borderline / Crawdaddies / Road Trip