Pioneers of Funk starring Midnight Star, Zapp and Con Funk Shun
North Shore Riverwalk Park
North Little Rock
Unrelenting heat, a very late start, the announcement of Kurtis Blow’s no-show, and the involuntarily shortened performance of Con Funk Shun did not stop the funky grooves of the Aug. 19 Pioneers of Funk concert.
Con Funk Shun excited the relatively small North Little Rock riverfront crowd. Michael Cooper’s guitar and vocals, along with the band’s outstanding horn section, highlighted performance openers “Ffun” and “Chase Me.”
Cooper also dazzled the audience on “Shake and Dance with Me” and “I’m Leaving Baby.” Not to be outdone, Felton Pilate lent his mellow voice to “(Let Me Put) Love on Your Mind,” and the title song from his CD, “Nothing But Love Spoken Here.” Caught by time constraints, Con Funk Shun ended its performance with its hit ballad “Love’s Train.”
The spirit of the late Roger Troutman was evident in the performance of Zapp, which opened by jamming “I Can Make You Dance,” “Be Alright” and “Dance Floor.” A superb harmonica solo rivaled the recorded version in the band’s old hit “Doo Wah Ditty.”
Zapp’s Bigg Robb introduced his special brand of comedy and style, changing into a variety of colorfully retro pimp suits. Lester Troutman, Roger Troutman’s brother and leader of Zapp, offered an extraordinary drum solo. Kay Forte and Gregory Jackson performed two beautiful duets — “I Want To Be Your Man” and “Computer Love.” The band also performed Tupac Shakur’s 1996, Dr. Dre-produced hit “California Love,” which featured Troutman’s signature talk-box-enhanced voice.
Midnight Starr got the party started right with a performance that began with “Electricity,” fueled by Melvin Gentry’s guitar, “Wet My Whistle,” “Midas Touch” and “No Parking on the Dance Floor.”
Gentry lent lead vocals to the mellow up-tempo song “Curious,” while Boaz Watson and Belinda Lipscomb teamed up for the duet on “Slow Jam.” Midnight Star ended its performance with its mega-hit “Freak-A-Zoid,” which featured Watson on the talk box, and got the audience on its feet dancing.
— Renarda Williams
The Lee Boys
The biggest sound in blues music today has to be “sacred steel” music. This is a sound that was birthed in the House of God denomination and whose members have carried it over into secular markets of music. Little Rock blues fans are more than familiar with Robert Randolph and the Family Band, a group that has brought its infectious joy here twice before. The Lee Boys were also making their second visit to Little Rock, carrying the same gospel of celebration, as broadcast through the infectious grooves of their pedal steel sound.
Celebration? That is exactly what these six mellow fellows exclaimed when they first took the stage at the Rev Room — well, not at first. They eased into a groove with the smoothness of a rich red wine, and it was warm all over as Alvin Lee laid down some infectious guitar riffs. Shortly thereafter, the band fell in line and let the pedal steel prowess of Dr. Roosevelt Collier take over. Sweet manna from heaven … that is one beautiful sound!
As Collier maneuvered the pedal steel out front, the band’s cadence transitioned into a march, the energy began to increase and the band exclaimed, “Let’s celebrate!” The beat that Earl Walker produced was a strong foundation, the bass playing of “Little Alvin” Cordy resonated strongly (a seven-string bass, no less), then there were the Lee brothers themselves ready to do the rest.
Take the Allman brothers at their most organic and funkiest and mix that with Sly and the Family Stone at their most energetic, you have the Lee Boys in all their glory.
— Mark Hooper