Funky Zoo: Jordan Selbo reviews Bootsy Collins

Categories: Concert Review

A Tribute to James Brown featuring Bootsy Collins
July 1, 2008
Minnesota Zoo, Weesner Amphitheater
Review by Jordan Selbo
Photos by Tony Nelson

Better Than: A tribute concert for the late, not-as-great Dixie Hummingbirds singer Ira Tucker

Those coming to the zoo (no, not that zoo, but the one way out in Golden Valley that costs money) Tuesday night looking for a good time and plenty of fat grooves to shake their shit to were certainly not disappointed by the slew of performances by former members of James Brown’s hugely influential band and some of their direct descendents. However, those coming for a healthy dose of the billed headliner Bootsy Collins certainly were. Though it’d be mighty hard to hate what they did get -- a joyous and tight (albeit short) performance by Bootsy and his cohorts, in addition to a slew of fun (if inconsequential) openers.

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The name is Bootsy, baby. More photos by Tony Nelson in the slideshow.

Starting things off late (and thus causing an early cut-off to the main set—more on that later), Escapism gave up the funk in the vein of The J.B.’s non-vocal catalog, appropriately jumping into “Pass the Peas” shortly after beginning and continuing with propulsive beats and loosey-goosey horn and guitar riffs. Next act Djizzle, a rapper in the vein of DJ Kool (more entertainer than lyricist) was amateurish but earnest, as was the subsequent act I-Candi, a trio of siblings whose lead singer showcased her chops (contributing a staggering version of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World), while her two brothers contributed rapping and choreography with varying degrees of success. The spirit of genre diversity continued with tight funk trio Freakbass, who contributed a few extended covers full of rubbery bass lines and endless grooves.

The James Brown legacy was apparent both in the range of artists he directly inspired (hip hop, bubblegum pop and funk, to start), but also in the almost endless speechifying given up to memorials of his greatness, which were insubstantial but heartfelt. As the Vicki Anderson Byrd-fronted Bobby Byrd band burned through a medley of baby boomer favorites, the crowd became audibly restless for Bootsy and his fellow funkateers, and soon enough the band of legends (look up “all star line-up” in the dictionary and find a picture of the crew assembled Tuesday night) gathered onstage for what I thought would be a marathon funk fest.

Led by James Brown dead ringer Tony Wilson (complete with similar dance mannerisms, vocal gruntery and even jawbone structure), the team of veterans was introduced by lonngggg-time J.B. MC and cape-wielder Danny Ray, whose voice is instantly recognizable as the same one that had introduced Brown for 40 years—almost worth the ticket price alone to see that gentlemen still as classy as ever and doing his thing. Fronted by Wilson, the band ran through a half-dozen standard funk classics, including “Super Bad,” “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose” and “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing” with impressive force. The ensemble numbered up to fifteen at its peak (if you count the two note-worthy backup singers and dancer/wig rocker) yet displayed a tightness that was only marred by a relatively weak sound output from the horn section (thanks, soundman).

The joy of seeing luminaries Clyde “The Funky Drummer” Stubblefield (who looked like a musical Buddha who had found funk nirvana behind his drum set), guitarist “Catfish” Collins and his brother Bootsy in top form was utterly delicious but all-too short-lived. Seemingly unaware of the bullshit 10:30 curfew at the Zoo’s amphitheater, the band whose frontman was once so famous for his exhaustive (in every sense of the word) shows had to wind it down just as they were getting into their (pardon the pun) groove. The headlining Bootsy Collins, who had heretofore been content to sit in the back with the twin drums strumming his superb bass while letting Tony Wilson do the heavy lifting, redeemed his top-billing status somewhat and showcased what a true star he’s capable of being to cap off the night. Leading the crowd in a final chant of remembrance for his late, great mentor, the charismatic, beloved and timeless bassist floated through the crowd, seemingly unable to stop until every star-hungry fan had personally hugged and/or grasped him in a loving embrace. He even managed to find me, coolly and unassumingly standing in my b-boy stance about twenty rows up.

Woefully short but unconditionally awesome, Bootsy and his band of legends showcased less of a performance than a preview Tuesday night at the Weesner, where the visuals are excellent but the stadium-style seating is inadequate for dancing anyway. What they need to do is come back to the cities (and a proper venue) very soon in order to finish what they started. Next go ‘round we’ll give them at least three hours to cut and pay tribute to a man who deserves another celebration (and I’m talking about both Brown and Collins here); now that sounds like a funky good time. -- Jordan Selbo

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