Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Burnt Sugar Play James Brown in Bed-Stuy

Most cover bands are either a disappointment or a joke. This being New York, there are actually some covers bands here who transcend the label: Tammy Faye Starlite’s brutally satirical Rolling Stones and Blondie projects; the sometimes 18-piece Main Squeeze Orchestra, who perform original all-accordion arrangements of pop songs; and Burnt Sugar. Of course, Burnt Sugar aren’t just a cover band: founder/conductor Greg Tate has been leading them through their trademark hypnotic, psychedelic, atmospheric, improvisational soundscapes since the 90s. But they’re also a mighty funk orchestra. Last night at Tompkins Park in Bed-Stuy, they played an all-James Brown program that did justice to the Godfather of Soul.

How do you cover Jaaaaaaaaaaaaames Brown without turning it into camp, or a parody? By doing the songs pretty much how he did them – and by not overdoing the vocals. A rotating cast of singers, both male and female, took turns on lead vocals (often in the same song), the main guy wearing a James Brown helmet wig. But as much fun as everybody was having, nobody went completely over the top: no cape trick, no Vegas showmanship, just a lot of good tunes and good history. The band was colossal, in both senses of the word: a five-piece horn section; five harmony singers (one of whom had to multitask on turntables, something they could have left in the rehearsal room and the music wouldn’t have suffered); three dancers, who mingled with the audience, as well as violin, keys, guitar, bass and drums. When bassist Jared Nickerson’s slinky Bootsy Collins lines were audible in the amphitheatre’s boomy sonics, it was clear that he was having the time of his life. The horns lept in joyously and disappeared in a split-second, just as Brown would have wanted, and the singers both in front and behind the band delivered the songs with a passion that wouldn’t let up. Just a few of the standouts from this particular lineup: violinist Mazz Swift, whose austere textures were a welcome anchor; Bruce Mack’s alternately funky and lush keys and organ, Paula Henderson (of Rev. Vince Anderson’s band) on baritone sax, and Imani Uzuri taking a couple of characteristically alluring cameos out in front when she wasn’t singing harmonies.

There was also a multimedia component that packed a surprising punch. A screen behind the band showed slides of various James Brown property (shades, stagewear, personal effects) auctioned off after his death, while an actor played the role of auctioneer between several of the songs or segues. The most powerful moments of the night were when Brown’s soul came up for auction, and later when the actor and the singer in the JB wig evoked the introduction of the famous Boston concert after the Martin Luther King assassination where Brown is commonly credited from saving the city from the rioting that was taking place all over the country; this particular interpretation had Brown ignoring the Boston mayor’s well-intentioned condescension with a casually stern but insightful exhortation to the crowd to chill out. Other segments played up Brown’s message of self-empowerment and defiant ambition.

And the songs were supertight: I Feel Good, Super Bad, a cheery singalong of Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud), a surprisingly upbeat It’s a Man’s World, a version of Please Please Please that played up its doo-wop origins, and a surprising amount of material from throughout his career, not just the classic hits from the 60s. Brown’s angel dust period was vividly evoked via a long, atonal instrumental – a good approximation of this band’s original stuff – backing a spoken-word piece about heroin delivered by the harmony singer/turntablist. The crowd, sparse as the sun went down, grew in numbers and enthusiasm as the night wore on, the band’s dancers getting a party going in front of the stage. They’ll be there tonight at 8 if you’re in the mood.

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June 18, 2011 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 9/11/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #871:

Tammy Faye Starlite – Used Country Female

Today, the corporate media would have you believe that the entire world is wrapped up in a dour display of nationalism and anti-Muslim fervor to rival anything Hitler ever came up with. We know better. In honor of 9/11 we give you comic relief in the form of one of the most subversive performers to ever hit the stage. An actress and dramatist who got her start in Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatre, T. Debra Lang’s best-loved alter ego is Tammy Faye Starlite, a washed-up, drug-addled country singer who, in a desperate attempt to get back into the limelight, becomes a born-again. Her improv lampoons rightwingers, bigots, Christian extremists and pretty much everything you see on Fox News more entertainingly than you could possibly imagine. There are two Tammy Faye Starlite albums – the first, On My Knees, is straight-up country and contains Did I Shave My Vagina For This, the funniest feminist anthem ever written. This one, her second, from 2003, is a boisterous, twangy alt-country record expertly produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and is a lot more diverse. The humor is all based in innuendo, and much of it is hysterical: the faux gospel of I’ve Got Jesus Looking Out for Me; the Doorsy highway anthem Highway 69; Ride the Cotton Pony, which is about menstruation; The Jim Rob Song, about a good Christian man who likes other Christian men (and boys too); and a sex-crazed cover of the bluegrass standard Hear Jerusalem Moan. Tammy Faye Starlite also fronts three irresistibly funny cover bands: the Mike Hunt Band, who do the Stones; the Stay-at-Homes, who do the Runaways; and most recently, the Pretty Babies, a Blondie spoof.

September 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Where was everybody last night?!?!?!

Did everyone decide once and for all that New Year’s Eve is amateur night and thus to be avoided? Has the last sophisticated New Yorker finally left the building? Do the people of the East Village now go to Times Square with the rest of the tourists? Or are the fun people in this town so broke now that nobody can afford to go out anymore? Last night at Lakeside, Tammy Faye Starlite played with her sick Stones cover band the Mike Hunt Band and while there were plenty of people there, it was nowhere near the mob scene that follows wherever she goes. It’s not like this generation’s answer to Lenny Bruce didn’t sell out the time before, or the time before that. The woman is an incorrigible exhibitionist, for god’s sake: you’d think that alone would have brought half the guys in town down to Avenue B.

This time, the band was actually good. When’s the last time you heard a Stones cover band play a song you didn’t know? They actually managed to stump me a couple of times. And at one time or another I’ve owned everything the Glimmer Twins ever did up until Steel Wheels (which actually has some good songs on it: Hold Onto Your Hat, anyone?). They didn’t do that, but they did Fingerprint File and a whole bunch of cleverly chosen clunkers. From what was on the set list last night, someone unfamiliar with the Stones would come away thinking that they sucked pretty badly. Which was the biggest joke of the night. But where the hell was everybody? Are there any stubborn old-school nightcrawlers left out there, or has everybody moved to Philly or Jersey City?

January 1, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Rant | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment