Downtown Albany’s Alive At Five outdoor concert series stepped one show closer to calling it a season last night. Heavy rainfall threatened cancellation earlier in the day, but the classic ’70s band War thankfully played under mainly blue skies at the Riverfront Park.
Opening their set with “Cisco Kid,” one of their four touchstone hits of the ’70s, they dove right into what everyone came to hear. Right off the bat with full volume, tight arrangements and sounding very close to the recorded version in many respects, people were immediately up and dancing.
Lead singer/keyboardist Lonnie Jordan (the only original member of War still touring with the band), before singing one word, told the crowd to sing it on their own. They jumped right in at the top with “Cisco kid, was a friend of mine.” After that, the crowd didn’t know the words, most trailing off into embarrassed, half-hearted humming. Jordan chided the audience for this poor performance even though they’d heard the tune “20 million times on the radio.” He knew it would happen and his joking with the audience is a regular, and fun, part of his show.
“Spill The Wine” was the next crowd pleaser, with its instantly recognizable organ vamp, multiple percussion parts and flute. Jordan’s voice is as strong as it was in the ’60s, singing the chorus’ refrain “Spill the wine, take that girl” with energy and soul. He also took this opportunity to extend the spoken, storytelling trip of this tune by adding extra psychedelic moments, like coming upon a woman with four hands.
He reveled in relating his memories of the ’60s and ’70s. Jordan seems a true flower child, even now, joking and reminiscing about “tripping,” Vietnam, vinyl records, Eric Burdon, 8 track tapes, etc. Some band leaders drone on between tunes, but Jordan‘s banter is welcome. He’s now 60 years old but dances around the stage like he’s 20.
The last two songs of the night were “Why Can’t We Be Friends” and the closer, perhaps their biggest hit, “Low Rider” with its perfect funky bass line and playful bluesy melodies. This last tune clocked in at over 35 minutes and was the only part of the show that was overdone. It served as the backdrop to feature each member of the band in a solo spot, but stringing them all together bogged down the flow.
Still, the players were very good for the most part, and occasionally excellent. In keeping with the kitschy aspect of the show, most solos ended with a reference to a big ’70s hit: The drummer played Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man;” the bassist surprisingly referenced Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor Madness;” the percussionist played through Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun;” the saxophonist played Junior Walker’s “Shotgun;” and the guitarist’s feature ended with James Brown’s “Funky Good Time.” Jordan’s feature was Sly Stone’s “I Want To take You Higher.” A good choice for the lone remaining original road warrior of the band War.
Local funk and R&B group Solid Smoke opened the show for War. They ran through a predictable, if not totally unpleasant, set of cover songs. Some of the usual suspects included Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” The Temptations’s “My Girl,” Prince’s “Kiss,” James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star.” These last two came off particularly flat without horn parts in certain sections. They did, however, have consistently high energy and when their vocal harmonies were on nearly half the time. They came off as much better than your average party band.