Sly Stone sighting
Review: The funk legend briefly turns up at the House of Blues, but his new Family Stone brings back the fun.
By BEN WENER
The Orange County Register
Well, it happened.
And the House of Blues in Anaheim can forever lay claim to this small bit of history: For the first time in nearly 20 years – that is, if you don't count his grab-a-snack-and-you-missed-it appearance at last year's Grammy Awards – Sly Stone, one of the crucial architects of funk, got up on stage before a proper paying audience and (kinda) performed.
Was it a landmark moment? I suppose it was to some of us who had waited until nearly midnight for the reclusive, mythologized legend to emerge. In rock 'n' soul terms, it was the equivalent of a Howard Hughes sighting.
But was it anything more than a sighting? Not really.
If, however, you were among the 500 or so who turned out to see the fragile, fractured former genius stroll out during this gig from the version of the Family Stone he endorses – and you came away disappointed at his almost complete lack of involvement – then ask yourself this: Did you really expect anything more?
Last week, when I asked Sly's baby sister Vaetta Stewart (who as Vet Stone leads this tribute) why he remains so reluctant to perform, she gave me two reasons: 1) At 62, he doesn't need to. 2) He'd rather the spotlight fall on this band – which admirably, sometimes superbly revives his songs – and the rest of the talent in his family that it highlights.
This night, that included Vet's fine voice and godmotherly manner, niece Lisa Stone's powerful pipes and infectious spirit, and the meager abilities of Sly's two daughters – Nobi, who inexplicably offered a bit of amateurish classical piano, and Phunne, who briefly rapped and whose Hall of Fame mom, Family Stone original and "Sing a Simple Song" shouter Cynthia Robinson, was back in the fold on trumpet. (There also was another niece on hand, whose name I couldn't catch but who did little more than chant along during a chorus or two.)
As for Sly, well, we got two very brief glimpses. Sporting the same blond mohawk we saw at the Grammys, he slid into view donning an outfit that belied his quiet, humble entrance: rhinestone-encrusted tails, pants to match, skateboarder sneakers, a red scarf tied around his neck like a cravat, dark shades hiding his eyes the entire time.
He stepped to a Yamaha keyboard set to a clavinet tone and tapped out a groove – in tempo and with a hint of the ol' Sly flair from the early '70s. Then he moved to the edge of the stage and began singing, without accompaniment, the title refrain from "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)."
As he led into it in a different key from the original, he threw the band for a loop. Eventually, guitarist and musical director Tony Yates reset the tune, Sly flashed a seemingly embarrassed smile, and the crowd joined in for roughly a minute of the chorus.
Then he and his daughters were gone – and cries of "we want Sly" swelled up, louder and louder. Phunne darted back on stage, a worried expression on her face: "Cut it out! Cut it out!" Vet quickly calmed the crowd: "He'll be back later."
And he was, flashing peace signs like Nixon during the end of "I Want to Take You Higher." Then he was gone again.
Well, that ismore than he did at the Grammys – and certainly more than he managed in Aug. 2005, when he sat in his motorcycle helmet at the Knitting Factory watching the band do its thing. Honestly, I don't know if he's really capable of much more.
And I was so entertained by the band itself that I didn't really care. Sly turning up was just icing.
Here I should make a correction: In last Friday's Pop Life piece about this gig's potential I remarked that original saxman Jerry Martini was last seen working a lounge act in Honolulu. Not so: He has his own tribute act, speciously dubbed the Original Family Stone Band. Its founding members numbering only Martini, Robinson (who apparently does double-duty in both outfits) and Rose Stone, it's no more the original band than the one Sly seems to prefer.
I've not heard Martini's group; it could be every bit as entertaining. But it has stiff competition. With Yates, his brother-bassist Pete and a gifted drummer (whose name Vet mangled and which doesn't appear on the band's web site) expertly anchoring the tunes, the group seems capable of pulling just about any Sly gem back into shape, be they as raucous as "Dance to the Music" or "Stand!" or as subtle as "Everybody Is a Star."
Most notable in this regard: a slower though no less effective rendering of the timeless paranoia behind "Somebody's Watching You" and an encore jam that led from Sly's most biting anti-racist piece (whose title I won't reprint, for it might offend someone unaware of its intent), went into a slice of "Sex Machine" (James Brown's, not Sly's) and concluded with a snatch of "Babies Makin' Babies."
This modest ensemble can't cover for every missing piece. Neither Pete Yates nor primary Sly fill-in Skyler Jett can do Larry Graham's robust bass vocals justice, and though both Jett and Vet are engaging, neither is able to summon a fraction of the idiosyncrasy that made Sly's phrasing on, say, "If You Want Me to Stay" so deliciously weird. (Lisa, on the other hand, is often tremendous, an ideal substitute for any and all high parts.)
"What a night, huh?" Jett asked the few hundred attendees still standing by 12:30. Actually, yeah, it kinda was. It wasn't monumental, and the 2½-hour wait for the band to surface caused a lot of frustration and restlessness that may not have been fully overcome. When I arrived there were about two dozen people upstairs doing the Electric Slide to old-school DJ spinning; by show time, their enthusiasm had dimmed by at least half.
But if, like me, you went in with minimal expectations, I suspect you left more than satisfied. If nothing else, we got to hear a first-rate band reproduce a dozen or so classics that deserve to endure indefinitely, with an on-stage blessing from its de facto leader.
Given who we're talking about, what more can we really ask for?
Contact the writer: 714-796-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org
[Edited by Ten Thousand Motels]
15th January 2007 10:02 PM
Ten Thousand Motels
SLY STONE ALBUMS UPGRADED FOR REISSUE
Epic/Legacy to remaster group’s first seven studio albums.
(January 8, 2007)
*Sly & the Family Stone diehards can circle March 20th on the calendar. The date marks the release of the group’s first seven studio albums – all remastered and bolstered with bonus tracks and new liner notes, reports Billboard.
Included is the group's 1967 debut, "A Whole New Thing," which introduced its signature blend of R&B, soul and rock via such tracks as "Trip to Your Heart" and "Run, Run, Run." The reissue includes five rarities, including the previously unreleased instrumental version of "You Better Help Yourself" and the single edits of "Underdog" and "Let Me Hear It From You."
In May 1968, the band released "Dance to the Music." Bonus tracks on the reissue include "Higher," which was intended to be the group's first single but was never released, a cover of Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose" and the previously unreleased original "We Love All."
Seven months later, their album "Life" underscored the Family Stone's genre-bending sound on tracks like "Dynamite!" and the biting "Jane Is a Groupee." The new edition includes the previously unreleased songs "Seven More Days" and "Pressure," an instrumental take of "Sorrow" and the single edit of "Dynamite!"
The group's first commercial breakthrough came with 1969's "Stand!," which hit No. 13 on The Billboard 200 and spawned the hits "Everyday People," "I Want To Take You Higher," "Sing a Simple Song" and the title song. The reissue includes previously unreleased "Soul Clappin II," the instrumental "My Brain (Zig-Zag)" and the mono single version of "You Can Make It if You Try."
The group’s next album, "There's a Riot Goin' On," spent two weeks at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 thanks in part to "Family Affair," the group's third No. 1 hit. The expanded edition will boast three previously unreleased instrumentals and the mono single version of "Runnin' Away."
"Fresh," released in 1973, included the single "If You Want Me To Stay." The new version adds alternate mixes of "Let Me Have It All" and "Frisky" plus a previously unreleased alternate version of "Babies Makin' Babies."
July 1974 brought the release of "Small Talk," which failed to generate any charting singles. Still, it reached No. 15 on The Billboard 200. Bonus tracks include the previously unreleased "Crossword Puzzle," the instrumental "Positive" and alternate takes of "Time for Livin'" and "Loose Booty."
15th January 2007 10:12 PM
16th January 2007 12:20 AM
I would've been thrilled just to have been there and seen the man onstage. God, I miss him. One of the greats.
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