Words by: Josh Danson | Images by: Josh Miller
Papa Grows Funk with AllofaSudden :: 01.21.11 :: Slim’s :: San Francisco, CA
I like to think when I moved away from my native New Jersey and settled here in San Francisco that I left behind tube tops, ill-fitting halter dresses, teased-up hair and other fashion faux pas favored by the cast of The Jersey Shore. But on my way up San Francisco’s 11th St. corridor there were enough Snooki and J-Woww lookalikes waiting to get into the dance clubs across from Slim’s to make a former Jersey boy blush. However, once safely inside Slims, opened in 1988 by that quintessential San Francisco songster Boz Scaggs, I was greeted by familiar sounds and friendly faces and the garish display of Bridge and Tunnel culture out front was soon but a distant memory.
|AllofaSudden by Josh Miller|
On the bill at Slim’s was a funky one-two punch consisting of local favorites AllofaSudden opening for New Orleans heavyweights Papa Grows Funk. Taking the stage shortly after 9:00 pm, AllofaSudden soon had an appreciative, vocal crowd gathered up front. Having seen them a number of times in smaller venues around San Francisco, I was excited to see and hear them on a larger stage, with the considerable weight of the Slim’s sound system behind them.
AllofaSudden has gone through a couple of personnel changes over the last few years but the current lineup - original members Tyler Shusterman on guitar and vocals, Sean Stringfellow on bass and vocals, along with Art McConnell on drums and Nathan Cole on keys - has really gelled and taken the band’s performances to the next level. Their sound blends jammy psychedelia a la Phish with funky, bass-driven rock ‘n’ roll, with Tyler playing fiery leads on his Stratocaster while Stringfellow lays down a solid groove on bass and handles the lead vocals. McConnell provides solid backing and subtle fills during the band’s extended jams, but also bangs away with the best of them on the band’s harder rocking numbers, while Cole provides a nice melodic counterpoint on keys to Tyler’s guitar and also helps anchor the rhythm section during Tyler’s solos.
AllofaSudden plays a pleasing combination of diverse originals and the kind of covers that you always hope a band will play, and this performance was no exception. Starting out a little tentatively with their original “Disappear,” they soon found their groove on The Meters “Funky Miracle,” with Stringfellow bouncing to the beat and doing an admirable George Porter Jr. impersonation. By now the dance-floor had really started filling up and the choice of a familiar Meters classic was a wise one to hook some of the newcomers who were there to see Papa Grows Funk. “Funky Miracle” was followed by a sinister “Roll” featuring an extended Phish-like jam with Tyler getting down and dirty on his Strat and working the miniature forest of pedals on the floor in front of him. Next up in this strong mid-set section was The Band’s “The Shape I’m In” with Stringfellow singing the Richard Manual lead. AllofaSudden closed out their set with a huge “Beelzebub,” a song about a devil of a woman, and finally “Eyelash,” which featured Cole playing a heavy, bouncing organ part that gave it a bluesy, roadhouse sound reminiscent of The Doors. All in all, the boys from San Francisco played a great set in the opening slot, limbered up the crowd for Papa Grows Funk, and won themselves some new fans for their efforts.
After a short break, Papa Grows Funk came out firing on all cylinders with bandleader John Gros taking up residence behind his Hammond B-3 and keys on stage left. On stage right, axe-man extraordinaire June Yamagishi wasted no time getting into the act, playing stinging blues riffs on his white Telecaster. Egged on by Yamagishi’s forceful entrance, Papa John leaned into it, playing a heavy gospel-tinged blues on the B-3, with the funky bass of Marc Pero and the pounding drums of Jeffrey “Jellybean” Alexander backing it all up.
|PGF’s John Gros by Josh Miller|
Papa Grows Funk is celebrating its 10th year together in 2011 and it’s easy to see why they have become such a staple on the scene in that time. The band is something of a New Orleans supergroup, with its members having formerly played with New Orleans heavyweights like Galactic, The Wild Magnolias, The Runnin’ Pardners, Smilin’ Myron and Jon Cleary. Gros’ voice is a growling, howling, soulful combination of Dr. John meets Art Neville with his own distinct New Orleans tang added to the mix.
Next up was another funky instrumental featuring Jason Mingledorff center stage wailing on alto sax with a huge bass solo by Pero on a custom blond-wood, 5-string. Showing off his wide range and versatility, Mingledorff switched between alto and tenor sax all evening and found a nice balance between stepping out and taking the lead and sitting back while Gros and Yamagishi did their thing.
Yamagishi is one of a unique breed of musicians who have emigrated to New Orleans from distant shores only to take their place amidst the firmament of Crescent City musical talent (see also: Anders Osborne, Jon Cleary, Theresa Andersson). Steeped in the blues but clearly a showman at heart, Yamagishi tears into his solos with abandon and often stops just short of full-blown pyrotechnics before settling back into a funky, slinky groove. This night at Slim’s was no exception and I found myself rocking out in front of Yamagishi’s amp for most of the show.
|PGF’s Yamagishi by Josh Miller|
After a string of super funky original instrumentals, the band launched into The Meters’ “Tippi Toes,” with Yamagishi starting it out playing the familiar scratchy, syncopated guitar riff, soon followed by Pero sliding in underneath with the classic repeating bass line and finally being joined by Gros and Alexander as the crowd howled in recognition and appreciation. Next up, Gros exhorted the crowd and his bandmates, somewhat unnecessarily it seemed to me, saying, “Let's get funky!” But sure enough, get funkier they did, with Pero unleashing a funky-ass slap bass while Gros sang, “Feel the music/ funky soul music!”
The rest of the show was a veritable New Orleans funk feast, kicked off by the Papa Grows Funk standard “Rat A Tang Tang,” which included a “Sneaking Sally” jam and a showcase for Yamagishi’s guitar, followed by Dr. John’s 1973 hit “Right Place, Wrong Time,” again featuring some sizzling guitar from Mr. Yamagishi. The band closed the show out with “Mardi Gras Mambo,” the Mardi Gras anthem originally made famous by Art Neville and the Hawketts back in 1953, then delved deep into the blues with an original composition that paid homage to Albert King, and finally capped it all off with a massive organ, guitar and bass jam that left us all a sweaty mess.
After it was all over my friends and I walked out into the San Francisco night half expecting to see Mardi Gras beads dangling from the telephone lines with the scent of jasmine in the air, but instead found ourselves amidst the happy throng of club-goers in their too-tight garments and cheap perfume. Oh well. To each their own.
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