Maceo Parker is the soul of funk. Early in the show Friday night at the Saint Rose Massry Center for the Arts he played a few jazz riffs, then stopped to say, “That’s not what we do.” He then yelled, “Make it funky!” The band slammed into the James Brown cover, and he sang that first line over and over throughout the song, stopping to blow out his sax, then to sing “make it funky” another few dozen times.
The signature sax sound for James Brown and then George Clinton’s Funkadelics, Parker has been on his own for decades now, carrying the torch of funk throughout the states and most recently Europe.
The band opened with “Funky Fiesta.” The songs go on for a long time, always Parker on sax, a thumb-slappin’ bass and drums driving forward for Parker, keys and rhythm guitar filling out the sound and color.
Parker is also an entertainer. He shuffles with his feet, he dances with his arms, the entire band will stop short at a climax and physically freeze on stage for 15 seconds for effect. They play with drama and humor. Parker would mumble into the mic like James Brown, then convulse to a “ha!” a few times, then mumble some more. One verse went “time and time again I feel the need to go ‘HA.’” When others soloed, Parker stood center stage and performed a full body dance.
For “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” he stepped off the stage and climbed the Massry Center stairs toward the back during a beautiful solo. That sounded jazzy to me.
They quickly rammed back into an in-your-face funky beat, Parker blowin’ hard and high, the verse singing “just giving us some more, give us some more.”
Marcus Parker, Parker’s nephew — the drummer — came on stage before the band to tell his story. Marcus’ dad, Melvin Parker, was James Brown’s drummer during Parker’s time in the band. “All my life I wanted to play drums with my uncle,” Marcus told us. He then went behind the drum kit to play a funky sensible drum solo that stayed on theme and circled back to finish. After that the band came out. I have never seen a show start like that. It was different and successful.
Parker’s son came out late in the show to play trumpet for a soul version of Paul McCartney’s “My Love.” Very nice.
The Massry Center is a classy venue that fosters good behavior. The funky Parker incites dancing. The audience mostly stayed in their seats all night, though a fair amount of people hung out in the back to dance through the show. He’s probably not used to an audience staying in their seats, but it didn’t seem to trouble him.
Like a dance club, Parker didn’t necessarily start or finish a tune, he just kept going, merging into different verses. The band stayed steady, Parker danced around them with his voice, repeating things like “we love” in a hundred different ways.
He gave us a few lessons on love: “your love my love, your love, my love, all around the world.” He sang and spoke this over and over toward the back of the show.
James Brown coined the phrase, “Maceo, I want you to blow.” And we got a lot of that. But we also got his singing and antics. Maceo no longer just blows, he entertains.
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