Live Review: A Funkified Tribute To Sly At The Fox

The ambition and scope of the tribute mirrored the outsized impact of Sly & the Family Stone's 1969 album

Credits: Alana Silva
It’s not every day that 175 local musicians come to the same place, let alone unite to throw down and bring a classic album to life. On Saturday night at the Fox, the timeless Sly and the Family Stone album Stand got the down-home treatment, being recreated by a wide array of Bay Area players. Throughout the night, nine different bands tackled the iconic record, with a new band coming up for each song. The funk is very much alive and this was a showcase for the torchbearers.

[jump] Since Stand brilliantly blended musical styles and blurred racial lines, it made sense that the bands would cover a range of genres, representing a wide array of cultural backgrounds.

The ambition and scope of the tribute, while presenting some logistical issues trying to get bands on and off stage, mirrored the outsized impact of the 1969 album. Sly changed the game, both musically and culturally, and this night was created to shed light on a watershed moment—an homage to his maverick vision.

Before the first song kicked things off, there was a word from the organizers. Lyz Luke, the founder of UnderCover—the people that put on the tribute—was the emcee for the night, providing context and color commentary alongside KPFA host and funk expert Rickey Vincent. The two were onstage frequently, peppering the interludes between acts with quips and historical tidbits.
The Awesome Orchestra Collective got things started with a rousing rendition of the title cut. In this big band framework, “Stand” came across like straight soundtrack material. With about 80 members onstage, there were piccolos, English horns, timpanis, tubas, and more. Every bass note and drum kick sounded as lush as movie-theater Dolby.

One of the early highlights came with Sólás Burke-Lalgee featuring Elephantine’s take on the Woodstock classic “I Want To Take You Higher.” In their hands, the classic rock staple got a tinge of electronica added. Burke-Lalgee donned eye paints and shoulder feathers, looking more P Funk than Family Stone, and the band busted into choreographed moves as they shimmied across the stage in unison. What is a Sly Stone show without some theatrics?

To keep it moving, the Marcus Shelby Quintet brought a bluesy vibe to “Somebody’s Watching You.” As one of the smaller groups of the night, their jam had a more intimate and jazzy feel. The piano solo from Joe Warner was killer, as was the stand up bass work. Plus, they did a tease of Rockwell’s 80’s synth hit “Somebody’s Watching Me.” Having chops is one thing, but having a sense of humor never hurts.
Next up, the Bayonics added a little soul from the islands with their reggae-flavored take on “Sing A Simple Song.” Congas anchored the groove, giving the rhythm an added bounce. It was as if the soul and funk of Sly was replaced by a world music vibe—a chugging Fela Kuti backbeat—and the results were surprisingly fresh.

Other classic songs like “Everyday People” and “You Can Make It If You Try” were similarly enlivened. These were homegrown remixes, and while the star power and mega watt names weren’t there, the team dynamic was.

The one drawback with the structure of the show was the start/stop dynamic. Since each new band had to setup after each song, there wasn’t much momentum that could be generated. Instead, there were a few too many lulls, making the energy sag at times.
Still, the gusto of the bands mostly made up for it. These were bands that were psyched to be onstage on the Fox—and even more pumped to be a part of a continuum of love, togetherness, and funky tunes that was started by Sly back in the 60’s.

Earlier that day, January 24 was officially named Sly and the Family Stone Day in Oakland. Is this tribute night the start of a new winter ritual? Is There’s A Riot Goin’ On up next to be recreated?

As long as Sly’s tunes are involved, we all win.