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Much in the same way Miles Davis dismissed the word “jazz” as a label for his music, Pasadena native Dâm-Funk refuses to be pinned down as just another “beatmaker.” He certainly shares some common ground with the likes of DJ Shadow and Flying Lotus, holding down notorious DJ gigs in addition to crafting compositions from his own synths. Dâm-Funk brought those latter arrangements to Philadelphia on a hot August night, touring to reinforce the significant attention and praise heaped onto the EPs he eventually collected into 2009’s jam-packed Toeachizown double album.
Dâm-Funk’s catalog is steeped in 1980s R&B and electro-funk revivalism. It recalls the kind of stuff that hopped between the “hot hits” format of old Top 40 radio and the playlists of urban stations, from daily top-n requested-songs shows through late-night Quiet Storms. Shalamar and Shannon, Mtume, early Luther Vandross, the career acme of Prince—all these artists and more have a place in the hands, heart, and head of Dâm-Funk. “It’s about everybody,” he would tell the Philly crowd of this reconfigured funk, “not just your punk ass.”
The keyboard-heavy songs featured on Toeachizown sound very much like labors of love, and to recreate his painstaking studio craft as a solo stage act might become an overly ambitious, preprogrammed, possibly tedious affair. The decision to bring along a three-piece backing band called Master Blazter was a savvy one. Drummer J1, keyboardist Computer Jay, and percussionist Groweyez shared performance duties, allowing Dâm-Funk to focus on squealing lead riffs and chords from a small bank of standing keyboards as well as a keytar. Used with no trace of hipster irony, the throwback portable keyboard gave Dâm-Funk a measure of mobility on Johnny Brenda’s crowded stage, letting him grind with his microphones as well as coo, chant, and scream into them.
If there is one complaint to be lodged against Dâm-Funk’s keyboard-fest, it’s a sense of homogeneity; live and on the album there are moments where songs, as entertaining as they are, start bleeding into one another. Yet while Toeachizown clocks in at an exhausting 139 minutes, the band smartly charged through only about a dozen songs. They chunked crowd interest using solo turns by him and his fellow players, bringing fans up on stage, changing tempos (and therefore moods), and offering self-confident shout-outs and stage banter.
It was really no surprise that at one point Dâm-Funk whipped out an old Funkadelic flag to help whip up the Philly crowd. Connecting digitized emotions and bold braggadocio, Dâm-Funk on this night channeled and overlaid the range of that outfit’s Bernie Worrell with that of latter-day Stevie Wonder. With Master Blazter’s assistance, his sound expanded to fill the club’s available space, if not spill right out of it.
Photography by Adam Blyweiss