War and the Average White Band
Hard Rock Live, Hollywood
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Better Than: Hearing both of these groups play in another 10 years.
With a bill of two of the funkiest multi-cultural groups from the late 1960s still alive and kicking, the Hard Rock promised to be a trip back in time for the baby boomer generation this Tuesday. War lived up to the hype minus some of lead singer Lonnie Jordan's running commentary, with their East L.A. sabor and tight seven-piece band keeping the crowd on their feet for most of the hour long performance.
However, AWB left something to be desired with backup singers and saxophone taking center stage over Alan Gorrie's famed vocals, bringing more of a smooth jazz feel to the renowned funky bunch from Scotland.
Shortly after 8 p.m., Average White Band opened up to the half-full Hard Rock Live, introducing their five-member group before segueing into a surprise tribute for legendary sax player Maceo Parker, hitting the solo on "Soul Power" and channeling "Papa Don't Take No Mess" with their drummer keeping perfect time. However, the rest of their showing felt like a below average white band, rushing through hits like "TLC" and "Cut the Cake" while pitching their CDs a couple songs into the show. On "Work to Do" which features Gorrie's soaring vocals on record, the sax player took the forefront on their instrumental rendition, sounding more like Kenny G then AWB, until Gorrie came in at the end to cleanup with assistance from their backup singer.
Only on "A Love of Your Own" did the group come together as the slow ballad allowed the older crowd to get into the mood, followed by a standout solo from drummer Rocky Bryant before the familiar horns of "Pick up the Pieces" rounded out their show.
After a 30 minute interval, America's band, WAR, got most of the lower level standing right away, as their energetic front man Lonnie Jordan introduced himself thru "Cisco Kid", reminding the audience this is not Edwin Starr's entourage. Elements of Latin music, funk rock, jazz and r&b were ever-present in their jams, with two players on percussion, one on harmonica, horns, guitars and keys. But what propelled their show was the storytelling of lead man Jordan. Taking the audience back to East Los Angeles with a gang of motorcycle riding outlaws on the bouncy "Slipping into Darkness" before the long intro on the psychedelic groove "Spill the Wine", going into why Eric Burdon was the one who did the original vocal.
The over 40s crowd were reminded of eight-tracks, convertibles, free love and the easy living of the 1970s on "Summer", leading into a doo wop-like intro of arguably War's biggest hit, "Why Can't We Be Friends", with the loudest call and response on the line of I'd like to be the president/ so I can show you how your monies spent!
A lot can be said for bringing in band members with individual talents, but it takes more to combine them into a tight sounding group. War has that down, still to this day. However, the highlight of the show was when these players got to shine on their solos. Each band member got a chance to go into their own cover, first showcasing their instrument and then being backed up by the rest of the group extending the jam. The bassist taking on Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love", drummer channeling Black Sabbath, and guitarist taking it to the bridge on James Brown's "Funky Good Time". The band has got chops.
Ending with "Lowrider", Jordan got nostalgic again, reminding the young people in the crowd that their time still lies ahead, as the band moved this Chicano national anthem from a half-step to full on anthem.
Personal Bias: Average White Band will still be one my top groups of all time; just wind the clock back a few years.
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Random Detail: There was a compilation put out in the early 90s called Rap Declares War, full of rap groups sampling War, from Poor Righteous Teachers to Nice & Smooth.
By The Way: Hard Rock Live is a brand new venue and a nice spot to see a live show, not many bad seats in the house.
-- Bernard Hacker