BIG NIGHT OUT IN THE FOG CITY

There was a genuine buzz in the air around Bimbo's 365 Club on Friday night. Already confirmed to play were Stanton Moore, saxfreak Skerik, Robert Walter, Chris Stillwell, and Charlie Hunter, and pre-show whispers were about any number of special guests planning on dropping by. There was no doubting the greatness of the players, but the extra anticipation comes from not knowing what was on the agenda — how would this "quadrangle of funk" materialize?

There was plenty of time to ponder the questions, as Mofro, the latest Fog City band poised to rise through the ranks, opened the show. Led by acoustic guitarist/singer John "JJ" Grey, this vocal quintet would on this night feature George Sluppick and Robert Walter from his 20th Congress. JJ's partner in greasy guitar, Daryl Hance, and French bassist Fabrice Quentin melded with JJ's soulful vocals, playing what they deem 'southern fried funk, straight off the front porch.' The 'Junkyard Jam' in particular was a tasty appetizer, as the crowd warmed themselves up for the main course.

As the lights dimmed for Set One, the buzz raised itself up a notch, and the never shy Skerik screamed, "We summon you to the church!" Skerik was at his best, playing the MC for the evening, never shy. Both witty and evil, he was in full-on freak mode, singlehandedly changing the name of the venue from Bimbo's 365 to Bimbo's $7000 Club, and imploring people to 'drink like it's still 1999'. As the band settled into a nice Stillwell/Stanton groove and bodies started to move in unison, Skerik invited everyone to get naked and 'take it all off' as he marched around the stage with a helmet-cam on. He shortly lost interest in turning the place into an orgy and focused on his sax effects. The helmet-cam was one of many cameras on the various incarnations of the band all night, making images appear on the big screen behind them. No taping was allowed, with the assumption this footage will turn into a live Fog City release (another enhanced CD-ROM or perhaps upping the ante with a DVD this time?)

The first set consisted of amber waves of groove, a free-form funkdafied flow that would heat up or take a tangent as solos were traded. Robert Walter was laying down some outstanding Rhodes licks, trickling waterfalls through the able-bodied Stanton and Stillwell rhythm section. Skerik, always blowing air, created some sounds that meshed incredibly well with his bandmates, such as wind whipping through the trees. Any time there was any uncertainty as to the direction of the music, Stanton would bring that beat back on the one and keep those heads bobbing. Stanton just elicits pleasure from his fans, a happily confident vibe emanating out from behind the kit and washing over those in his line of sight, creating a smiling epidemic.

Before the third jam, Skerik said, "If this groove doesn't make you think about sex...well, wait until set two!" Skerik called out for Cheme Gastelum, the mighty alto sax man from Robert Walter's 20th Congress to join them. Cheme traded sax appeal in a cool call-and-response with Skerik, before they settled into the Luca Fredricksen number, Blues for Ben, that is a Stanton standard at this point. The high point of the set and possibly the show was ending the set with an incredible version of Good Times, Bad Times that got the place in a frenzied pitch just in time to take a little set break.

Lots of moving amps and setting up mics at setbreak, as Charlie Hunter whizzed across the Bay Bridge, from Yoshi's to Bimbo's to get in on the big fun. The second set was slightly shorter, but no less action packed. With so many Kooks on stage in the second set, it was no surprise to hear a few tracks from All Kooked Out, Stanton's Fog City album that Charlie Hunter and Skerik played on. Settling in with a rousing Witch Doctor, the set got hotter as Hunter's new tenor player, John Ellis, came out with Cheme and soloed under the watchful eye of Skerik. Skerik is always focused and intense, and when he's got collaborators, he seems even more focused. As he traded licks with Cheme and John Ellis, he would pick up on where they were going, practically as the breath was coming out of their mouths.

And how could I neglect to mention the other special guest of the second set, Warren Haynes, in for the weekend to play at Phil Lesh's shows. Warren came out for the last few songs of the set, catching a few bars of a solo on Tchfunkta, and was instantly at ease with being in the middle of an all-star cast — nothing new for him these days. Hunter had grabbed Stillwell's bass, and was locking in with Stanton playing bass only, the first I've seen him play with less than eight strings. Watching this interplay between musicians I respect is just another reason that these special engagements are so special.

The show was everything it was expected to be — glossy, shiny funk set askew by Skerik wierdness. Only one loud groan all night, when the crowd was informed there would be no encore! Bimbo's stops the music at 1am sharp every night, because of noise levels in that neighborhood. Rabid fans would have to wait another day for late night jams, but this was a great kickoff of a nice long weekend of music in San Francisco. And the excitement builds as 2000 will go out with a bang!

Hats off to Fog City, for a successful Big Night Out. Look for more of these supergroups in 2001,
like Mike Clark's Prescription Renewal Tour in early March!

Ted Kartzman, in San Francisco
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 12/30/00]

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