ROBERT WALTER’S 20TH CONGRESS | with Fred Wesley
Fox Theater | Boulder, CO | 04.18.02
The weekend before the big Jazz Fest kickoff, Boulder was privy to my favorite show of the year by some of the best musicians on the planet. This was my first show at the Fox to see what is, quite possibly, my favorite band on the scene. The 20th Congress will never disappoint, and if you have not seen these guys yet, let me be the first to recommend them. This was my twenty-second show, and I was so happy to know that another funk legend was joining them tonight for the festivities. The guest of the evening was no other than funk master Fred Wesley. With his musical intervention added to an already talented cast, we all knew the night was going to be special. Like always, we did miss the opening band, which was a drag because they were supposed to be very good. But with a Jack & Coke in my hand and a great first row spot, we were off and so was the band from song one.
As they took the stage, they had a more casual look to them, which gave a great looseness to the show. The set started with two new songs which both had that great Congress vibe to them. “Easy Virtue” had that R&B sound to it, with Robert and Cheme [Cochemea Gastelum] running off each other perfectly. The next was one of my favorite songs of the night: “Glassy Winged Sharp Shoes” was a great jam that had the percussion of George [Sluppick] and Chuck [Prada] following right behind the great sax work of Cheme. Let me just say that George was tight the entire night. His drumming followed the horn section, and his voice was one of the most entertaining aspects of the show.
The next was a beautiful rendition of a song that I have been privileged to have seen many times: “White Russ” is the pure example of why I consider Robert to be one of the foremost in the ways of the keyboards. This jam was great and gave all the band props with each note that was being played. The first highlight of the set was “There Goes the Neighborhood” from the album named just that. I absolutely love this song and the whole album. The song is like an early Donald Byrd or Eddie Harris jam. The pure looseness of this song was perfect to hear with the actual band Robert plays with. On the album he has great jazz musicians that make it sound like it came off the shelves in 1968. Cheme stole this song with his perfect sax magic that brought the rest of the band to play with his intensity.
After the new and quite strange song named after the cable network BET, there came the drum notes I new from old P-Funk. George gave an entry like no other while the band just played a great funk over “Fred, Fred...". As the great man advanced I gave a holler and knew this show was about to get out of hand. As he got comfortable they went immediately into “Ain’t it Funky Now, “ and had the entire crowd on their feet. Having gotten to seen Fred with Mike Clark, Karl Denson and a reunion of the orginal P-Funk, I know all of what this man can bring to a show. “Chick A Boom” had a great horn standoff between Cheme and Fred that provided us with a taste of the evening’s second set. The last jam of mention was “Play it Back”, which had Fred all over the place and was a great set closer. As they left I was in awe with the playing and could not wait to see what was to happen in the set to follow.
To begin the second set, we were again treated to Robert’s new album with that Fred twist. “2% Percent Body Fat” was the perfect opener for the set. It showed perfect solos by Robert, Fred and Cheme with the perfect backbeat of Chris Stillwell, Chuck and George. Robert and Fred performed together flawlessly during the solos and put the biggest smile on my face. Chris was perfect the entire night without any really flashy solos. “Bugaloo Boogie” had everyone dancing and had Fred exchanging some really smooth jazz riffs with Cheme. They sounded great together the entire night, but this was one of my true favorites just because they were so smooth. Their jazz chops, along with George, had me bopping to the original as they improved it and made their own. The next was a personal favorite, “Baking Bread”, which I had heard three years before with Karl Denson. This is an original Fred classic and was an unexpected glimmer inside the mind of Fred. Fred and Robert were beautiful in this version. Fred still sounds as if he were with James Brown and singing backgrounds. His voice has not changed with age and I really dug that.
As the song progressed, they went into the P-Funk classic “Up for the Down Stroke.” This had everyone in the crowd going as if it were 1975 and George Clinton was leading his band down the funk express. This was really an instrumental, but they had everyone singing the basic lyrics. The next was another funky new one entitled “Aquafresh”, and it had everyone up in the air. The last jam of the set was a tribute the trombone master: “Do that Stuff" > "Funky Good Time” gave everyone a reason to smile. Fred was perfect as to be expected on both numbers, but the rest of the band sounded like we were in the past. Robert personified Bernie Worrell in the instrumental of the P-Funk classic, and had everyone of his band members following along. Cheme was Maceo and the rest of the band gave us that classic moment when a cover is really great. It also provided us with a great look at Fred and how great he still is and how much we need him to jam on the scene. The song was his to start and the band just followed his vibes throughout the vocals and inside jams. He was great, as was the rest of the band, and when they all left I knew already what the encore was to be. Robert and his band have probably done the last song for me 10 times, and every time they give it a new blend. “Funkarama” was the perfect song to play with Fred. Every member got the meaning of what this song is supposed to sound like. It was great to see Robert, Cheme and Fred once again trading licks like they have been playing together for years. The song was a tribute to the excellent night of music the Fox got to see.
For anyone that is still pondering if they should go and see Robert and his gang, let me tell you that this is the best band on the scene today. To see this band is like going to the Blue Note on a Saturday night and getting to see what music should be today. Sorry there is no electronica or techno. This band is the purest form of music out there and they produce the best dance sound out there. With Fred Wesley they were perfect and I truly mean that. The band brought me back to what my parents saw in the funk hay day. So for the 22nd time, Robert thank you and come back as many time as you can. And to the rest of the band, you were perfect as ever. And to anyone who has not seen an act of Congress, please go because it will bring your own perfect government of mind. See you on the flipside...
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