Where's Bootsy At?
I've been waiting 18 years for this show. Every since I first heard "I'd rather be with you". I didn't know what funk was, but this sound went straight to my balls. I didn't even know what sex was, but this geezer sounded like he was in the middle of it.
Years later Bootsy was booked to play a show in London. I bought my ticket, he canceled, I waited well over a decade before I saw his name on a line-up again: Fuji Rock '08. This was billed as Bootsy's tribute to the late, great James Brown, the guy that had hired him when he was just the bass player in The Pacemakers and propelled him towards funk superstardom. Will Bootsy turn up in toned-down JB-era suits or the star-spangled, hats and sunglasses outfits from outer space he's been wearing for the last 20 years?
Somewhere in the middle it turns out. He rolls onto the stage in an all red outfit, alongside a little girl in a purple outfit and green wellies who is trying to intepret his funkspeak into Japanese. He tells us what his show is about - it'll be a 3-parter, and he won't be back till part 3.
Part 1 is Escapism, a band featuring members of Public Enemy. But we're not talking Flavor Flav, Chuck D, Professor Griff or Terminator X here. Name another member... can't, can you? So two fellas come on. Nobody knows who they are. They're introduced to the crowd. We still don't know who they are. They play three JB tunes, including the mighty "Make it Funky". They're pretty good, but we don't know who they are.
Act 2. Fred Wesley and not the Horny Horns but some other old geezers that play funk classics such as "A blow for me, a toot for you", "Breakin' Bread" and "Pass the Peas." This probably ought to feel historic, but it doesn't. It looks like four old men on a stage playing historic funk tunes a little slower than we would like. The crowd, which is smaller than I've ever seen a White Stage headline crowd, is moving a little out of politeness. There are actually people sleeping 50 ft from the stage.
Act 3. First big surprise. Vicky Anderson of the James Brown revue comes onstage and belts out a couple of her biggest hits: "If you don't give me what I want" and "Too tough for Mr Big Stuff". It's starting to feel a bit historic, although Anderson is clearly not as energetic as she used to be - she has to be helped to the stage and can barely groove to the music. Voice sounds great though. Perhaps insultingly for Anderson, the crowd warm up when she gets to a cover of Aretha's "Respect".
The show was slated for 9-11pm. It's 10:45 when Daniel Ray - the late Godfather's MC - comes onstage. He does his famous spiel, listing the tracks we'll be hearing, and describes the group as "the hardest working band in showbusiness". Hardest working band? They haven't even started and it's an hour and 45 mins into the show!
Boosty comes back on in a new military-look outfit, followed by a little James Brown loookalike, and a woman in a sparkly evening gown. Fake JB looks like real JB, and he can somersault and perform mic stunts that even the Soul Brother No.1 couldn't. Still, this isn't James Brown and it's all beginning to feel very cabaret.
They play Soul Power, Talkin Loud and Sayin Nothin and some of the most famous funk tracks ever written. There's Bootsy, Fred Wesley, Catfish Collins, some bird in a sparkly dress and Fake JB on stage. It sort of seems like it ought to be historic, but it feels a bit embarrassing. The voluptuous lady in the sparkles turns out to be Tomi Rae Brown, widow of JB and one-time Janis Joplin impersonator. She starts belting out a ballad: "I lost someone." Vicky Anderson is helped back onstage, clasps hands with the widow and joins in. "We looooost somebooody." Not everyone gets a posthumous tribute on the White Stage in the headline slot, but something tells me the legendary perfectionist is turning in his grave as his underlings and widow turn his legend to cheese. A little chick in hotpants and a giant afro is introduced as "Bootzilla" and the P-funk influence is creeping in. They play "Get Up (Sex Machine)" and the crowd go crazy.
It's 11:30 and the James Brown cabaret continues. I'm sure there were plenty of funky bits and bobs that came later, but the New Mastersounds are about to start in the Field of Heaven and I'm off to hear something real.
Reported by Don Coglione (2008.07.26 / 13:08)