Last week we had the good fortune of witnessing the technical majesty that is UK giants Underworld at the Hollywood Bowl. Backed only by UK-upstarts Jungle, the trio performed what could objectively be called a master class in true electronica. This week, on the same stage a trio of dance/funk-inspired bands played together, and while all of them put their best foot forward, the results were a decent step down from last week’s brilliance.
First up was local LA dance-funk outfit Tuxedo. A newer group comprised of Mayer Hawthorne and producer Jake One. Here the duo expanded out to a live band featuring bass, drums and a female backup singer. The band’s aim of presenting a smoothed-out old school vibe was clear even in the early part of the set. Songs such as “R U Ready” and “So Good” had a jovial and lively feel, working on both the fun-loving and infectious level. The band ended with a playful rendition of Cameo’s “For You.”
Almost immediately after, Bootsy Collins’ funk outfit Bootsy’s Rubber Band jumped into their set. Counting the man himself, there was 12 people on stage for this set. Even though Bootsy himself is an extremely talented bassist, he still had a backup bassist present for nearly every song. Some points that was just so that Bootsy could focus on singing and chanting, but others it was clearly doubling on Bootsy’s own abilities. The large band started strong in the early portion of the set, with Bootsy’s arrival on “Ahh… The Name is Bootsy, Baby!” (from his second album all the way back in 1977) being greeted with a huge cheer. “Psychoticbumpschool” in all of its Frank Zappa-esque madness still had the crowd on their feet, but things started to slow down after that. “Pinnochio Theory” and “Hollywood Squares” all seemed to meander more than explode with funk power. The latter did start to feature to the ultra-famous scrunched bass drops Bootsy’s always been famous for. Most curiously, after a long cut of the Funkadelic classic “(Not Just) Knee Deep” (most prominently featuring an impressive distorted bass solo from Bootsy himself), the man pretty much just left the stage. Apparently, Bootsy needs a break? So, the next few songs were performed by his band without him. Bootsy re-emerged with a new costume and light-up bass to play the finale, one of his very first solo song back in 1976, “Stretchin’ Out (In A Rubber Band).” There’s nothing bad about this set, but unless you’re a diehard fan of funk and the subtleties of the genre, it felt more than a little disorganized. The band’s three singers (not counting Bootsy himself) just never really cemented the flow of any given song.
Finally, Basement Jaxx took the stage to finish off the evening. The band’s two main members were positioned behind a turntable/synth array (Felix Buxton) and manning a guitar (Simon Ratcliffe) respectively. They opened with their own kiss-off anthem “Good Luck.” “Unicorn” and more impressively “Power to the People” came next, both of which featuring the dual vocals of Vula Malinga and Sharlene Hector. Both women more-or-less serve as the lead singers of the band from this point through the duration of the remainder of the set (occasionally leaving as others sang a song or two). Professional sports mini-staple “Red Alert” came in next, but the infectious bass tones were drowned out under the twin percussion the band employed. This set off a medley of sorts, eventually leading into more recent number “Back 2 the Wild” featuring Korean sisters Chay and Emma Lee on vocals. Another medley followed, this one a bit more unfocused, but then the set’s best moment came in the form of “Never Say Never.” Led by auxiliary singer Shakka Philip, his voice was strong enough to carry the song to impressive heights.
Other highlights that followed included early career cuts “Romeo,” “Jump n’ Shout” and of course, set closer “Where’s Your Head At.” Apparently running long after such a packed set, there was time enough only for a super brief encore rendition of “Mermaid of Salinas,” itself on the more tropicalia side of dance, rather than the traditional EDM they were born from. Buxton and Ratcliffe worked hard to make this as fun and engaging a show as was possible, loading up the set with various singers and even dancers for the moments where nobody was singing. As such, they deserve ample credit for putting on a fun show. There’s just something that seemed missing from it. Rather than solidifying a solid groove that carried the whole night, it felt like a dance music smorgasbord. If all you wanted was to get up and shake your rump, it probably was enough, but for the rest of us, it was just a bit too shy of cohesive to make for an incredible experience.
File photo credit: Pamela Lin