ROBERT WALTER | 04.11.02 | THE FILLMORE (B.Getz on JamBase)

Although somewhat weary from over two months of traveling, on Thursday April 11th the 20th Congress was in session, Robert Walter presiding per usual, and the familiar lure of music, friendship, history and energy led me to a true family affair.Twas my last night on holiday in San Francisco, and no better way to celebrate and consummate the voyage than with a pilgrimage to the hallowed Fillmore (a first for me as well as the band), an appropriate send off for Jeff, Naomi and myself as we all said goodbye to San Francisco in different ways. It was also coming up on a full year since I last attended a Congressional hearing.

This was no ordinary RW20 show, as he brought some old friends along for the party. Special guest congressmen Fred Wesley (JB’s), San Fran’s own Dave Ellis (Charlie Hunter, Other Ones, Ratdog), and ex-Greyboy All-stars guitarist Elgin Park (also known as Mike Andrews) brought some swanky jam for the boogaloo sandwich, and the Congress’s debut at the Fillmore was a throw down, reunion, and reinvention all in one.

After arriving late due to woefully inept wait staff at some Indian restaurant downtown, I milled about the venue for much of the first set, running into friends and saying goodbyes, which is odd because I am normally a very attentive and quiet listener. I could not take my eyes off the plethora of photographs taken through the years of performers who had graced the Fillmore stage. The chandeliers placed above the ballroom lent an elegance that seemed to drip authenticity. This was a perfect example of the power within a venue (itself) to create a vibe all its own, before music and people are even added to the mix. Overcome by the finality and elegance of this my final night out in SF, I was in a real social mind frame. Soon the grooves got cooking, and before I knew it, Fred Wesley appeared, rotund and tons of fun, to the classic anthem “Ain’t it funky now.”

As I surveyed the stage, it seemed to be a bit cluttered, as the quintet that is Robert Walter’s 20th Congress now shared the stage with legends Wesley, and Elgin Park, who hung in the back with his former GBA bass player Chris Stillwell. As the minimalist groove bass locked in seamlessly with drummer George Sluppik, Park let a wry smile attach itself to his face as the band zipped through Greyboy classics “Fire Eater” and the swinging set closer “Quantico, Va”, a Karl Denson penned ode to his hometown.

During the setbreak, as we watched a cool little jazz band upstairs, I wondered aloud why Elgin Park thinks he’s too cool for the rare groove set. It is no secret he was bored and often half-assed it through the Greyboy years, and subsequently, while the other GBA members have built steadily within and around the genre, Elgin Park is more akin to get with the Strokes, White Stripes, Lower East Side-set, that sort of Gap ad hipster thing. Music is to each his own, but Park could not hide the fact he was digging on ripping his hollow body over boogaloo and groove.

The second set started blazing with “Orange Peel” which featured dynamite melodic conversation between the excitable sax man Cocheema Gastellum, (who I would describe as Skerik on a sunny, 85*F day), Walter’s sharp and muted Rhodes, and the gritty mound of sound that is Fred Wesley. The set stepped upon the Mothership for the first of three Parliament covers, “(Get Up) For the Down Stroke” as Wesley took the lead with Gastellum and the massive crowd shouted the refrain back to the rollicking band. Fred and Tenor man Dave Ellis joyfully explored “Breaking Bread” and the politically charged “Watergate” with Wesley on vox, waving his hands in the air as if he just did not care.

The show really burned it up a few notches with the old school Robert swank-a-thon “2% Body Fat” recently reworked on Walter’s phenomenal new album There Goes The Neighborhood. The percussive keyboard intro gave way to a rollicking jam where percussionist Chuck Prada made himself known with sixteenth and thirty second notes that seemed to answer the horn melody while simultaneously threading together the different rhythms and textures that this large ensemble produced. Ellis, Gastellum and Wesley enjoyed one of many stellar horn duels on this GBA anthem.

By midway through the second set, Park was ensconced in the music and energy being exchanged (onstage and in the audience), and we were treated to several trademark Elgin solos for the remainder of the performance. Stillwell brought simplistic, enslaved rhythms to the crunk, and the well deepened when more P-Funk arrived with “Do That Stuff” and “Aqua Fresh.” Walter relished the opportunity to play a rhythm, reserved host, laughing and smiling and strategically placing melodic limericks between Park’s chunky chords and Cocheema’s tweaked saxophonics.

A fitting set closer in “Funky Good Time” had Wesley feeling sixteen and free, as he waltzed about the crowded stage, stomping and strutting and promising to take us higher, (this jam begged for an Elgin solo that never arrived). Robert Walter delivered on Wesley’s demands, with an abbreviated double encore of “Inside Straight/Boogaloo Boogie” the latter half featured raging Rhodes work and vintage Robert facial expressions from the HCIC (Head Congressman In Charge). The 20th Congress threw down for the SF massive and sent me back eastward with the righteous Bay Area vibes flowing as my cup runneth over, yet thirsting for JazzFest.

See You in New Orleans!

Brian Getz
JamBase | Crunkologist
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 4/17/02]