George Clinton & The P-Funk All Stars/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill /February 17, 2015
George Clinton was born in Kannapolis, North Carolina, and grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey. In 1955, Clinton formed a doo-wop group called The Parliaments, rehearsing in the back room of a Plainfield barbershop where he straightened hair. The Parliaments had one rhythm & blues hit in 1967, but in 1968 morphed into the far more experimental Parliament-Funkadelic and (in the 1980s) The P-Funk All Stars, selling millions of acid-funk albums. Due to legal issues with the band names, Clinton began recording and touring under his own name in 1982.
At B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, Clinton was more of a conductor than a performer for three hours of jams by a collective of nearly 20 musicians and singers. When he sang, his voice was grating. Nevertheless, he orchestrated a danceable and mesmerizing groove, allowing singers and musicians to improvise on his tunes on lengthy stretches. He had no baton, but he led the funkestra, much like Clinton’s forbearer Frank Zappa sometimes led later versions of his band, The Mothers Of Invention. Highlights included “”Flashlight,” “One Nation Under A Groove” and “Atomic Dog,” songs that have had a second life in the samples used by contemporary rappers. Clinton & The P-Funk All Stars were not locked in a time warp, however. The set often incorporated 21st century hard beats, synthesizer riffs and hip-hop raps. Toward the end of the set, Clinton brought out an 11-year-old boy who played dazzling blues guitar licks. At 73 years of age, Clinton still forges the path for future funksters.
Helmet/Bowery Ballroom/February 18, 2015
Raised in Medford, Oregon, Page Hamilton moved to New York City in the early 1980s to study jazz guitar. He joined the avant-garde composer Glenn Branca’s guitar orchestra and the noise rock group Band Of Susans. Hamilton sought musicians through a classified advertisement in a New York newspaper and formed the successful alternative rock band Helmet in 1989. The band split in 1998, Hamilton relocated from New York to Los Angeles, California, and in 2004 formed a new band and branded it with the same name. Hamilton is the sole remaining original member of Helmet. 15 musicians later, the band presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Hamilton, guitarist Dan Beeman, bassist Dave Case and drummer Kyle Stevenson.
Helmet launched a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band’s third album, Betty, with three concerts in New York; two at the Bowery Ballroom and one at Saint Vitus. On opening night, the band first performed the 14 tracks from Betty; curiously, they played the 45-minute album in 45 minutes. The band then played 16 additional songs spanning Helmet’s career, focusing mostly on songs from the 1990s. Live, the songs were rawer and coarser than the recorded versions. Clipped block-chord riffs, minor keys, and drop-C and drop-D tunings produced super heavy, crunching rhythms. Accordingly, the rock-steady, low-rumbling metal grooves highlighted Hamilton’s piercing guitar licks and his gravelly and sometimes monotone barks. Many of these grooves were mid-tempo or slow, punctuating rather than distracting from Hamilton’s avant garde and jazz-inspired fretwork. For nearly two hours, this version of Helmet respectfully and impressively reenergized the earlier lineups’ rich, abrasive and nearly-chaotic-sounding catalog.
Faith/The Bowery Electric/February 19, 2015
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Felice Rosser relocated to New York City in the mid 1970s to attend college, and quickly gravitated to the local music scene. She played bass in bands with singer/guitarist Deerfrance and performance artist Jennifer Jazz. In the 1980s, Rosser played in Sistren, an all-female reggae band. She also played with the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and new wave artists Bush Tetras, Gary Lucas and Ari-Up of The Slits. In the 1990s, Rosser started Faith, which has released albums in 2001 and 2007. Faith more recently released a four-song EP, Soul Secrets. Faith presently consists of Rosser, guitarist Nao Hakamada and drummer Paddy Boom.
At The Bowery Electric, Faith combined several ingredients to concoct a new broth. Rosser interpreted a soulfully emotive vocal style reminiscent of Nina Simone, Laura Nyro or Joan Armatrading. The singer/songwriter’s lyrics sounded like poems attached to light melodies. The power trio hit warm grooves with Rosser playing sparse funk and reggae basslines, Hakamada playing stinging alternative rock guitar leads and Boom playing jazz-styled drums. Together the rock and soul trio produced a matured sound for matured audiences.
Spanking Charlene/The Bowery Electric/February 19, 2015
Vocalist Charlene McPherson knows she has a big fanny. The name of her band, Spanking Charlene, pokes fun at that attribute. The rock band was formed in 2007 in Brooklyn, New York, and almost immediately released a debut album. Little Steven Van Zandt featured the music on his Underground Garage radio program and then named Spanking Charlene as the “Best Unsigned Band in America” after he had the three finalists perform in a contest at Pianos. The grand prize was having Van Zandt produce two songs for the winning band. These two songs appeared on the band’s second album, 2012’s Where Are The Freaks? Spanking Charlene is comprised of McPherson, guitarists Mo Goldner and Eric Ambel, bassist David Leatherwood, and drummer Eric Seftel.
At The Bowery Electric, Spanking Charlene played straight-up, no frills pop rock music. Much like mid-1960s radio music, everything boiled down to a tight ensemble of musicians supporting songs that revolved around catchy hooks and gripping vocals. McPherson’s sweetly soulful and sultry vocals were kept up front, soaring above the rocking guitar-based rhythms on uptempo songs. The jagged-edge guitar sounds kept the songs from becoming overly slick. While not really a punk band, Spanking Charlene’s set included a cover of X-Ray Specs’ anthem from 1977, “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” Spanking Charlene made old-styled music sound fresh again.
Los Dudes/The Bowery Electric/February 19, 2015
There is a band called Los Dudes based in Ventura, California, and another band with the same name based in Brooklyn, New York. The Brooklyn band formed in 1993, and released a self-titled album in 1996 and a second album, Hipster Retirement Home, in 2013. The band consists of vocalist Jesse Bates, guitarists Eric Hartz and Eric Ambel, bassist Bob Cerny and drummer Todd Irwin.
Los Dudes self-describes itself as basement rock, so it was fitting that the band performed in the basement of The Bowery Electric. Lighthearted and jovial, the band performed clever novelty songs like “Let’s Get The Band Back Together” and “TV Nut” that spoofed youthful priorities. Far from polished, the punky garage band created and indulged in a good time party spirit with humorous compositions performed well.