I appear to have underestimated, after all these years, the power of William “Bootsy” Collins in the realm of funk.
Though I’m not sure he’s quite the title holder of King of Funk, as he was introduced Thursday at a show at Montgomery College’s Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center in Rockville, Md., he certainly showed what a mainstay he is in keeping the music alive and throbbing.
A onetime bassist in James Brown’s band who rose to prominence among the throngs of George Clinton’s colorful Parliament/Funkadelic, where he helped write “Tear the Roof off the Sucker,” he certainly has the lineage to carry on the funk standards.
And with his current band, he certainly does, bringing a kind of Cincinnati pride for a bottom-heavy regional bounce that’s akin to D.C.’s own go-go – and so was well received by the audience, on their feet for most of the show.
Bootsy himself, who turns 61 next week, is still a striking figure in top hat and glittery costumes (which he changed twice in the course of the show). His declarative voice and constant call and response, along with his dash and lanky showmanship harkened back further than Clinton and Brown, though, all the way back to the traditions of Cab Calloway.
Like Clinton’s modern day Parliament/Funkadelic, Bootsy’s show is sprawling, surprising and a little nutty. But there is a tightness in Booty’s band that can stop songs on a dime, add flourishes and constantly weave in songs and themes from his P-Funk past without always playing the song.
When it came to the part in the show where he goes into the crowd to “touch my people,” blessing them head-to-head like a healing baptism, he was undaunted by the fact that there wasn’t a center aisle. Instead he just climbed over chairs, standing on armrests, row by row, all the way back of the hall as the band funked on.
This was a seasoned band, with sweet vocalists, who could have kept a groove going all night. It reverberated in the hall, but when Bootsy slapped his trademark star-shaped Space Bass, it literally shook loose clothing on your body. It may have made blown your hair back like in those old speaker commercials.
The constant sampling of Bootsy means his sound has never gone out of style; indeed, it’s helped fuel today’s most innovative hip-hop. Still, the audience was largely oldtime funkateers of all races, who gladly climbed on stage to shake their things when so invited late in the show, when things began to start resembling the usual kaleidoscopic P-Funk chaos.
As one nation under a groove was chanted over and over, a huge banner welcoming back the Mothership Connection, and some future reunion landing, seemed unnecessary. The mothership had already landed.