In his continuing series of strange thoughts that kept him out of a good college, Judge Ryan Keefer wonders how much glitter can possibly be used by one European funk band in the 1980s.
"German television proudly presents live in Rockpalast, Rick James and the Stone City band!"
To briefly sum up Rick James' career in a paragraph or so, he was the nephew of a member of Motown group the Temptations (Melvin Franklin) who formed a blues band in the '60s and later wrote for the Barry Gordy Motown label for the next several years. This was after he joined the Navy at 17 and went AWOL, for which he turned himself in and served some time for the crime. In 1977, he went to Barry Gordy with a completely recorded album ready to go, wanting to become a star. Shortly thereafter James released several albums, the most notable being 1981's "Street Songs," which brought the world the magic of "Super Freak."
By 1982, Rick James was a more than established force in the music world, playing a unique mix of funk and rock. So when he arrived in Germany as part of his first European tour, he had a lot of ecstatic Germans waiting for him. James' set list from this April 3, 1982 show in Germany is as follows:
Without a doubt, from an energy aspect, Rick poured every ounce of himself into this 80 minute performance. The problem with that statement is that, considering the chemical problems James had in the years afterwards up until his death, one has to wonder how much of James' energy came from pills, powder or other substances (one of the first scenes on the discs has James drinking from a Hennessey bottle). Now for those that may be unfamiliar with how things were in rock shows in the '80s, solos are usually spots for a drummer, guitarist or other artist to showcase their talents while the rest of the band takes five for a break, smoke, groupie, or what have you. There are two listed solos here (though one belongs to James on the harmonica), with an unlisted third when the drummer is playing on the stage just before the band's encore. So let's say, for the sake of argument, that each solo is about five minutes in length each. Take away the introduction, and there's about an hour of performance left to look over.
Now Jerry Lee Lewis in England or Jimi Hendrix at Monterey it ain't, but it's still a damned entertaining hour. James is all over the stage, playing several instruments over the course of the show, and bringing a brand of sexual tension to the stage that not many Germans could have been used to. Every song, even if it wasn't the proper place, was a call and response number, where James doesn't hesitate to get the crowd involved in his antics. His band was reminiscent of the various James Brown backup bands of previous decades, along with The Family Stone, as you had horn and brass players, backup singers, and guitarists that can only be described as remnants of Parliament Funkadelic, musicians that could play decently, but maybe not hold their own on a given night. But all in all, the Stone City Band was a worthy complement to James' musical talents.
The concert presumably aired on German television at some point during or after the show, and the video presentation appears to show every inch of it. Whenever the crowd claps in unison (and on a tangent, any concert hall full of Germans doing anything in unison is something to stand up and take notice about), the camera focuses on stage center slightly but noticeably moves with it. There are captions for James' songs during the concert, but they come in several minutes into a song, resulting in a bit of a bootleg video kind of feel to things. And while there is a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track as an option to listen to here, it's very hollow sounding, and a lot like the rear surrounds weren't even part of the experience.
The bottom line is this, while the producers of this DVD tout this as a "fitting tribute" to Rick James' career, it's clear that is nothing more than a cash grab on whatever legacy James has left. To whomever decides to release any more of James work, can you at least put some time and energy into the audio and video please?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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