November 2007 Archives

PUTTING THE “FUNK” IN “DYSFUNCTION”

When Sly Stone played his first “official” show in ages at the Flamingo in Las Vegas on March 31, there was a warm, familial air to the affair. He was accompanied by the touring band of his sister, Vet, and his daughters, Phunn and Novena, joined him onstage. Tentative at first, Sly grew increasingly comfortable, and delivered moving versions of “Stand,” “Family Affair,” and “If You Want Me to Stay.”

Tuesday night’s early show at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill had a rougher feel to it. Gone was Vet and her amiable co-vocalist Skyler Jett. Gone were Sly’s daughters. And the promised quasi-Family Stone reunion featuring Sly’s guitarist brother Freddie and his vocalist sister Rose didn’t pan out. This show’s band was a ragtag assemblage of original Family Stone members (horn section Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson), members of Vet’s band, sundry supplementary musicians from who knows where, and some skinny toastmaster/sycophant dude (“Does everybody here think that Sly Stone is ownin’ it?!”) who looked like Chris Rock with Ice-T’s hair.

The show started off promisingly: Rather than tease the audience by not showing up until his band had already performed half their set, Sly bounded onto the small stage all by himself, a jovial figure in ersatz Flavor Flav gear and a pasted-on black Mohawk. “You know all those times peope said I was late?” he asked. “I was busy!” He continued onward with his slightly naughty banter, clearly reacclimated to public performance, if not disciplined music-making. It took forever for him to summon the band in full–there was an especially curious interlude in which he ordered a roadie to “interview,” him, quizzing him about past arrests–and by the time the band was actually onstage playing an actual song, “Dance to the Music,” Sly had wandered back off the stage, crouching in the wings just beyond where Martini stood.

Sly returned, though, and he and the band sounded good on “If You Want Me to Stay,” “Family Affair,” and “Sing a Simple Song.” He dispelled any notions that he’s too frail or withdrawn to perform by bopping around with abandon and tossing his shades into the audience, actually letting a large group of people see his eyes. Still, it was a shambolic show, and not the big step forward from Vegas that I’d hoped for.

And yet I hear that the second show of the night, at 10:30 p.m., was fantastic. He was joined this time by Paul Shaffer of Letterman fame, which evidently brought out the best in him. Perhaps, in time–maybe even on December 7–we’ll be able to tell Sly that he is indeed ownin’ it.

November 21, 2007  Link  General Posts  Share/Bookmark

OF WOODY AND WAIN

In case you missed it, I reviewed Eric Lax’s Conversations with Woody Allen in the November 18 edition of the New York Times Book Review, as well as two collections of Woody’s prose. The Book Review also Q&A’d me for its Up Front section, and included a curious caricature of me in which I look 55 and have acquired Hanna-Barbera-style facial stubble.

There’s a young(-ish) comic writer, performer, and director I like who sometimes draws comparisons to Woody. His name is David Wain, and comedy cultists know him from his stints in the troupes The State and Stella. (He also directed the movie Wet Hot American Summer, a sendup of Meatballs-style teen-hormone comedies, and has another feature coming up, Little Big Men.) But he’s truly found his metier with the Webisode format, having launched a delightful running series of five-minute episodes this fall called Wainy Days. I can see why people detect some Woody influence in Wain–he’s Jewish, wears glasses, likes to portray himself as romantically hapless, and offers up an explicit Hannah and Her Sisters homage in Episode 10 of Wainy Days–but Wain is ultimately more surrealist and outre than Allen, more Monty Python-ish. Since his days with The State, Wain has combined a sweet upper-middle-class amiability with a depraved-sicko fearlessness that often entails multiple self-humiliations and, er, rubber phalluses. All of these elements are on wondrous display in Wainy Days.

November 20, 2007  Link  General Posts  Share/Bookmark

FOLKS WITH JOBS DON’T UPDATE THEIR BLOGS

So, instead, they do roundup posts like this one.

I really enjoyed reading this critique of the U.S. mint’s “state quarters” series.

Two Clemson professors think that my Snob books represent a new form of satire, or something. Whatever, I’ll take it.

No comment.

I never knew there was a video for Yoko Ono’s “Walking on Thin Ice” until now. I always liked this song, the last thing John Lennon ever worked on in the studio. It was skeletal, icy, post-punky, and dancey, the antithesis of the blissed-out mellowness of the Double Fantasy album. And Lennon plays a metallic, Adrian Belew-like guitar part that sounds like no other guitar part he ever played. I wish that some of this weirdness had crept onto Double Fantasy.

November 14, 2007  Link  Share/Bookmark

THE SLY PLOT THICKENS

Those upcoming engagements at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill grow ever more intriguing for Sly and the Family Stone fans. For starters, the shows in question, at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on December 7, sold out within a couple of hours, so two new shows have been added, on November 20.

Then there’s the matter of band personnel. When Sly Stone returned to performing this year, as chronicled in my story in the August issue of Vanity Fair, he did so with a band organized by his youngest sister, Vet Stone, with only one original member of the Family Stone, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, behind him. This time, original members Freddie Stone (guitar), Rose Stone (vocals and keyboards), and Jerry Martini (saxophone) are also on board, and it’s entirely possible that original drummer Greg Errico will also join in. (I contacted Errico about this, and he said nothing’s been arranged at this point, but “I really would like to get out and do some playing!”)

That leaves only original bassist Larry Graham out of the picture. (Yes, this all sounds obsessive, but I like to think of this as an example of benign Rock Snobbery.) Graham, of all the original members, had the most fraught relationship with Sly, and also the most success on his own, as the frontman of the delightfully named funk band Graham Central Station. Graham is now a devout, cheerful Jehovah’s Witness who lives on Prince’s Paisley Park compound in Minnesota, and when I spoke to him earlier this year, he went out of his way to speak magnanimously of Sly and argue that tales of their enmity were overblown. That said, when I brought up the idea of his returning to the Family Stone fold, Graham seemed unenthusiastic, telling me, “I’ve been leading my own band for 35 years now, and it might be hard to enter a situation where someone else is the leader.”

Still, it’s shocking enough that Sly has emerged from seclusion, survived a difficult European summer tour, and scheduled two rounds of dates in New York, so anything’s possible...

November 7, 2007  Link  General Posts  Share/Bookmark

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