On Thanksgiving Eve a merry bunch of music lovers descended upon Portchester, New York with full intent to loosen up, get down, and kick off the holiday season in style. Peter Shapiro's recently revamped Capitol Theatre provided the perfect conduit for such endeavors as there is no better way to escape from the monotony of the day to day than with live music. It was Live For Live Music that booked the three fantastic acts that comprised the second annual Phunksgiving. And it was the Dust Rays, Fishbone, and Dumpstaphunk that imparted the evenings soundtrack, administering the funk with ease and energy to all those in attendance.
Now let's fast forward briefly to the middle of this magical evening: Center stage, four feet back from the rail, taking in the atmosphere, I peered away from the stage for a split second. All of a sudden, I get hit hard smack in the center of my forehead. After this mysterious projectile ricocheted into my chest and landed on the floor, I quickly regained my composure. And as fans scurried in a frenzy towards the ground like a rabid pack of dogs fighting over a piece of meat, it became clear they were after the unidentified flying enigma, which turned out to be not so mysterious after all. John Steward, the drummer of Fishbone threw one (or perhaps both) of his sticks out into the audience mid-set. While this specific happening was isolated, it served to be microcosmic of the entire evening, since during Phunksgiving, if you peered away even for a split second, you were all but sure to miss something spectacular.
And as the night unfolded, each ensemble expanded upon the zing manifested by those who came before, yet someone always has to go first, and for this evening it was Dust Rays, featuring "Captain" Kirk Douglas of The Roots fame. In this three-man side project, Kirk shined as frontman discharging lick after lick on guitar with a ferocious intensity. This power trio dispatched a form of music that differed vastly from The Roots, and could be described as heavy alternative rock. As the band closed their short but tightly executed set with the original "Open Your Eyes," many an audience member found their eyes wide opened to a musical genre they may have otherwise not sought. For those in attendance, Dust Rays hard hitting tunes provided the perfect amuse-bouche to the consequent performances.
Next up as Fishbone ventured out onto stage, it was immediately apparent that we were in for an energetically therapeutic set. It also became quickly clear that a large swath of audience members came to see this band first and foremost. If one advanced front and center, they rapidly found themselves surrounded by Fishbone diehards decked out in band regalia. And if a faithful fan failed to wear their band gear, one could surmise their dedication through dancing, which for the zealous was really moshing. And in venturing towards the pit, this uninitiated reviewer found himself in the fray, slapped or punched throughout the set more than once. But while this romping may have seemed treacherous from an outside perspective, it embodied the very joy that this band conveyed through such songs as "Everyday Sunshine," and mainly by the way they carried themselves.
So as the true blue got down and dirty, the players joined in as well. Angelo Moore, and Jay Armant, Theremin player and trombonist respectively, crowd surfed at various points vivaciously harkening back to days of yesteryear. While Fishbone was certainly not everyone's reason for being at The Cap this night, by the conclusion of their set there was nary a disappointed face in the crowd. Even if one did not heavily jive with their fusion of ska, funk, and alternative rock, this set was a sight to see. A well executed, immensely entertaining performance that dabbled on all ends of the spectrum, from social commentary to straight up humor, and left us with an indelible experience in the end.
Yet Fishbone was not the end, and as Dust Rays served to be the appetizer, Fishbone our soup and salad, Dumpstaphunk remained to be the main course, dessert, and midnight snack all wrapped into one.
And from the first notes of their closing set, the theatre quickly transformed from a combination of moshing Fishbone fundamentalists and those curiously rollicking on the periphery, to an all out soulful funk infused dance party of epic proportions. Ivan Neville's New Orleans bred Dumpstaphunk finally brought the pure unadulterated funk that many were looking for. From the opening notes of "Meanwhile," the troupe's critical yet ultimately uplifting take on the politics of the George W. Bush era, the theatre seemingly teleported down to NOLA, as the band is a true contemporary cultural representation of the grooves and notions coming out of that region. But while they wax funky, the group can be a little bit rock and roll too. Case in point, with Tony Hall taking lead vocals, they traversed through a roaring "Ramble On" that rivaled the best live versions of Led Zeppelin itself. Simply put, Dumpstaphunk's versatility in performance is a large part of what makes them shine.
Furthermore this evening the band was especially radiant as they brought some special guests along. Current member, Alvin Ford Jr., took a breather, making room for the old Dumpstaphunk mainstay, Nicky Glaspie, on the drums. It was a delight to see Nicky surrounded by her old band mates, and she fit right back in as the backbone driving the ensemble forward. Also, a true cherry on top of the already jam-packed evening was the incorporation of Cyril Neville into the mix on vocals for a few songs. As a member of The Meters and the Neville Brothers, Cyril brought with him a taste of the good old days when funk was the new sound around. And with Ian Neville as a full time member, this was truly a family affair. Uncle and nephews graced our presence together for a one off funk feast, and with a family oriented holiday beginning at the strike of midnight, there could not have been a more perfect time for these folks to get together.
All in all Phunksgiving was a carnival of carousal. A potluck of funk, infused with a mixture of genres introducing many to new music, while hitting those same folks with a familiar magic as well. There was dancing, mingling, cavorting, and frolicking. Revelry was bountiful as this shindig marked only the beginning of the super long weekend. Often it takes folks a day or so to truly begin to relax on an extended holiday, yet this phunky excursion allowed us to put the unwind on overdrive, giving everyone the full ability to enjoy the off days ahead. In this way we all ascended post-show from Portchester, grateful for music, family, and friends. Until the 3rd Annual Phunksgiving, we bid band and audience members adieu. Thank you for an extraordinarily euphonious expedition.
Words: Russell S. Glowatz
Photos: Chason Heins
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