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Bernie Worrell & the WOO Warriors
Review 01/30/99 From: Mike Theiss
Live at the Fenix above ground, Seattle, WA Saturday January 30th, 1999 [from rec.music.funky] Words cannot adequately describe the experience of a P-Funk concert. Particularly, in the presence of Bernie Worrell. Anyone who has witnessed the Wizard of WOO do his magic in concert can testify to this, but I'll make an attempt at describing the show anyway for those who haven't had the opportunity and/or need some incentive to realize it when it comes (Brace yourselves, this is a long one...) Led by keyboardist/vocalist Greg Fitz, the WOO Warriors kicked off the show with one of Parliament's most unforgettable classics, "P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)" Had the audience been chock full of hardcore Rubber Fans and funkateers, Greg Fitz's energetic vocals would have been enough to carry the momentum of the "Make my funk the P-Funk...." chant through the crowd. Unfortunately, since Bernie's concert was a part of Pioneer Square's 'joint cover' where patrons pay $8 to get their hand stamped and have access to most of the major clubs downtown, a good percentage of the audience were clueless as to who was before them. Literally, a woman turned to me before the set and asked "Who's playing? What type of music are they going to play?" Well, at least Bernie was playing to a full house. Since the arrangement of "P-Funk" was mostly instrumental, it would have been much more effective with more crowd participation, but it got the ball rolling regardless. After the song ended, Bernie Worrell was introduced and took the spotlight, blowing a melodica solo as the introduction for "Re-enter Black Light" The band had a lot of fun with the tune, it was much more playful and livelier than on Bernie's "Free Agent" CD. It's evident as well, that the WOO Warriors have grown a lot as a unit since the recording of the Live CD available at their shows and through their web site at http://bernieworrell.com The first part of "Re-enter Black Light" started out pretty straightforward. The band swelled on a chord and Bernie started out with an extended melodica solo, playing the head from the song and throwing in clever quotes from "My Fair Lady" and other familiarities for some variety. Gabe Gonzales came in with the beat (no loop) and the hooks from the song were played, eventually leading into a guitar solo by Michael Reuben. Things really started to liven up shortly thereafter when Bernie came back in with a piano patch on his Roland JD-800. He started out quoting a famous classical riff (from Peter and the Wolf?) and then quickly developed it into a barrage of funky syncopation and chord voicings. Anyone in the room with a soul had their eyes dead on the stage at this point. Bernie was definitely using the spotlight to his advantage. Each of the other band members had their opportunity to shine as well with solos by bassist Donna McPherson and drummer Gabe Gonzales to follow. Ms. McPherson started her solo out with a familiar melody I recognize from the theme music of the "Popeye" cartoon! All in all, the song was around 20 minutes and not a dull moment within. Then the band REALLY laid the funk down with an interpretation of Sly Stone's "Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself" leading into the immortal P-Funk classic "Red Hot Mama". Lead Vocalist (or 'WOObian Temptress' as Bernie would say) B.J. Nelson was introduced and brought to the stage at this point. Her vocals were energetic and on par, and her stage presence demanded attention. Mike Reuben started off Bernie's own "Y Spy" with a reference to the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thang". If you haven't yet had the chance to hear the WOO Warriors Live CD, I must mention that the live version of this song is much more in the pocket than the original recording on the "Funk of Ages" album. This particular rendition was even livelier than the one on the live CD as well. After the song, Bernie rapped to the audience, suggesting that only people that have something to hide themselves need to spy. "Why Spy? Unless you've got to cover yourself. If you gotta cover yourself, than you gotta spy, huh? Oh! Why you gonna spy? Cause YOU f***ed up!" The Wizard proceeded to dig even deeper into the P-Funk catalog with Funkadelic's "If You Don't Like The Effect, Don't Produce the Cause." This tune was sung as a duet, or co-lead vocal with both BJ and Bernie singing together. "Your so deep, in your semi-first class seat", Bernie really went all out with his unique silly serious way of delivering his vocals. Greg Fitz took a keyboard solo on the tune and added to the night's long list of references to familiar melodies and cartoon characters by quoting the "Peanuts" theme song in his solo. Michael Reuben took things up another notch with his solo that followed. On a live interpretation of "Straight Ahead" (another one from the "Funk Of Ages" album) Bernie sang the lead himself with BJ Nelson and Greg Fitz holding down the backgrounds. After that, Bernie introduced the band members to the crowd and told a little bit about everybody (where they were from and other notable bands they played with). The Wizard then recalled his Talking Heads days with a mostly instrumental rendition of "Burning Down The House". Since many of the audience members didn't know much of the repertoire in the set, this was a good card to play, as most everybody recognized the tune. His interpretation was interesting. Kicking the song off with an 80's electro style drum machine beat and playing the lead vocal melody on his clavinet, the song was extended and expanded to over 13 minutes in length. During the course of the song, Gabe Gonzales and Michael Reuben both took solos and Bernie played the vocal melody on everything from his Arp String Ensemble to the mini-moog. Getting back into gear, the band followed by digging up two more long lost Parliament/Funkadelic classics, Parliament's "Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication" and Funkadelic's "Comin' Round The Mountain", just the way they were meant to be played. Next Bernie made it evident to all the musicians and funkateers in the crowd that he really was WAY too deep for most people in the room to appreciate. In a tribute to Jimi Hendrix and his home city, Bernie improvised an extended solo based on the riff from the Band of Gypsys' "Who Knows". On the spot, he conjured up an original masterpiece by using classical motif development techniques and his arsenal of analog synth gear to re-invent the song in a funky way that would have made Jimi proud. Pure genius. After twisting, turning and stretching the melody into just about anything and everything imaginable, the rest of the band came in to close the tune out with a bang. Bernie then dedicated the tune to Jimi and "his homeland, your homeland". That tune alone would have been well worth the mere $8 cover charge for the evening's entertainment. But, the band had saved the best for last, with a barrage of P-Funk classics, "Standing On The Verge of Getting It On", "Flash Light", "Smokey", and "Cosmic Slop" closing out the show. "Flash Light" was a medley with "WOO Light" an 'extension' of "Flash Light" which BJ Nelson said is anticipated for the upcoming WOO Warriors CD scheduled for release sometime this Spring. Greg Fitz did the lead vocal duties on both "Smokey" and "Cosmic Slop". All in all, the music was solid the whole night. Though I'm used to hearing songs like "Flash Light" and "Cosmic Slop" performed by a 15-20 member ensemble, this tight 6 member crew's performance was as powerful as the best of the many P-Funk concerts I've heard by any of the various P-Funk incarnations. It was truly a treat to hear some of the more obscure P-Funk classics such as "Smokey", "Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication" and "If You Don't Like The Effect, Don't Produce the Cause" performed live, and the rare treat of Bernie's interpretation of Jimi's "Who Knows" and the other spontaneous happenings of the evening are truly unforgettable. Beyond that, you'll have to hear the band for yourself to know what I'm talking about. Take my word for it though, if Bernie and the WOO Warriors come to your town, the only way you can lose out is by NOT going.