From an oversized plush top hat to spray-painted shoes, Bootsy Collins emerged onstage at the Orange Peel sequined and solid gold. Equipped with his white and reflective star-shaped space bass, the funk legend and his big band managed to accomplish their goal of “tearing the roof off this sucka,’” while somehow keeping everyone dry from the rainy Wednesday night.
It was more of a funk showcase than a “we’ve got another album” tour: Collins played everything from the absolute classics, like the star’s own anthem, “Ahh… The Name Is Bootsy, Baby,” to several covers, including Sly & the Family Stone’s defining “I Want to Take you Higher.” Collins took every chance he got to point out his backing band’s deep history in funk. Bernie Worrell, who’s been with Collins and P-Funk since the almost beginning, had his own theme, and DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight of The Headhunters saw plenty of shred-play on his blue tiger stripe electric guitar.
When Collins disappeared for a lengthy costume change, understandable given his getup, TM Stevens (of Shocka Zooloo and The Pretenders) led the crowd in homage to Jimi Hendrix with a slap-driven cover of “Purple Haze.” His airbrushed bass, featuring the Lion of Judah and LED fretboard inlays, almost rivaled Collins’ in terms of pizzazz. With his raspy soulful voice, Stevens shook his sweaty dreads all over the stage and held his instrument over the crowd, begging for the front row to reach out and touch it. Stevens and the rest of the enormous backing band – 14 in all – conveyed just as much big personality and over-the-top enthusiasm as Bootzilla himself, and while the rhinestone rockstar was clearly the main attraction, he gave everyone onstage a chance to get to know the audience with either a solo in the spotlight or a part in a goofy dance number.
Even Tobotius, the DJ accompanying Freekbass to form the opening act, Freekbot, came on stage to help get the audience to put their cellphones up – as in open and in the air, not in your pocket. If you weren’t participating, you got accosted with an oversized plastic, flashing magic wand (as it turns out, some people legitimately don’t have cellphones). You would have had to try to not have a good time at Collins’ show.
The turnout was impressive in its diversity. Black, white, young, old – everybody loves Bootsy, baby. Middle-aged men sporting well-worn Parliament and Funkadelic t-shirts got commendable “We want Bootsy!” chants running in the crowd and a lot of young faces lined the front row. From this diversity, however, arose an unquestionable tension. There’s something fundamentally sensual about Bootsy and his funk, and during songs like, “Yummy, I Got the Munchies,” when Bootsy slowed his funkin’ down to a crawl and turned his slaps into soft strokes, well, it got a little provocative. My thoughts go out to all of those who had to learn about “finger funkin’” in front of their mothers.