Attending this "concert" definitely ranks up there with the silliest things I've ever done. All indications -- a San Francisco Chronicle brief reporting that Sly wouldn't appear, the removal of Sly's name from the billing, more than two decades of Sly Stone comeback rumours -- pointed to a no-show.
But we had free tickets, for Chrissakes, and what if he showed up? Djoe St. John, who won the tix on the radio, and I, who was honored to share in his bounty, vowed to manage our rock 'n' roll expectations and enjoy a night out in The O. C.
Around 3:00 p.m., when I should be pre-partying, I start to get seriously ill: chills, sore throat, fever, mild nausea. Maybe this was g-d trying to tell me something. Fortunately I've never been one to listen to g-d so when Joe picks me up we head straight for the Continental Room and down a couple of manhattans.
Our resolve thus fortified, we continue to Garden Grove for a Vietnamese dinner at Brodard's aka Nem Nuong (don't ask, I don't get it either). Man, this joint seems SO good. It's jam packed with eaters, our food looks fantastic, but my body will not permit me to eat; I stare at my vittles and they stare back, mocking me with savory fragrance and vibrant color. Djoe tells me that I look pale, that all I need do is say the word and we'll head for home. I thank him for his kindness and tell him that I'll be alright and besides, dude, "[David] Rosen will kill me if I miss this show."
Djoe concurs. We put a meal's worth of leftovers into doggy foam and off we go to Downtown Disney.1 As we drive along Katella I reminisce about the amazing collection of space-age and tiki craze motels that used to line this avenue. None of them remains, the last one having been demolished around the time of Sly's last gig.
And so it goes in the land of Disney: through the power of eminent domain the space age gives way to the retail age and before you know it Mr. St. John and I are parked (3 hours free) at Downtown Disney. Djoe, who's really worried about me at this point -- not only am I pale but I've made no attempt to smoke anything at all before attending a [Sly and The?] Family Stone concert -- asks me if I'm cool. I affirm my readiness to push forward and we walk to the mall.
We reach the HOB quickly because a) it's 38 degrees outside, and b) Djoe is trying to escape the fan who just bummed a smoke from him (I told him to take her back to the car but he wouldn't bite). The marquee reads like a disclaimer: "Tonight: The Family Stone." Nevertheless we sprint for the entrance because we figure they have heating.
Now we're in and the heat is for real. It's old skool night in Anaheim: the blacks and the whites are enjoying the DJ's stunningly predictable 70's funk play list: "Flashlight," "Got To Give It Up," "You Dropped a Bomb On Me," "Hollywood Swinging," etc. I love these songs and all but an hour-and-a-half of the same tempo and no place to sit does not enhance my health or Djoe's patience. Finally the DJ cuts his set and the curtain opens to the sound of a slow funky hip hop beat and some noodling keyboard. Is this a preview of the long-awaited "new material"?
We'd have to wait to find out because, despite the MC's promise that this would be a "historical night," the band that took the stage looked and sounded like a Vegas cover band, complete with a fringed-red-leather-jacket-clad frontman.
Original Family Stone trumpeter Cynthia Robinson and Sly's sis Vet Stone kept it real, and they dragged out late-era "original" band member Pat Rizzo 2 for sax and flute solos but after about a half-hour of an admittedly competent set of hits, those of us who were going to tear the club down if Sly didn't show started to pace back and forth (including, thanks god, an especially vintage type of dude wearing handstitched-black-leather everything including a wide-brimmed hat, all carefully layered on top of a white turtleneck and accented with goldness).
Squirrely types aside, the crowd as a whole showed surprising patience and enthusiasm for the show. Their tolerance of stage-borne shouts such as "Do any of you out there own any Sly and the Family Stone records?" was a testament to the power of nostalgia. But the pacing continued and even (Formerly) Cool Dad gave up; he put the kibosh on the whole thing and led his sullen-faced adolescents right on out of there. 3
Meanwhile, Djoe and I are reduced to sitting on the sticky HOB floor and even contemplating how we can get out of there without telling Rosen. Even the world's greatest bass line, now blaring out of the P. A., becomes just another reason for my worsening headache. And then it happens: as the band vamps on "Thank You," Vet Stone introduces Sly and he enters, stage left. He looks a little shy but he's Sly!
Sporting the full-length studded leather coattails 4 and blond mohawk he infamized at last-year's Grammy's, he's escorted on stage by his provocatively-dressed daughter Nobi who, as the band stops playing, sits down at a keyboard and plays a shaky rendition of a baroque-ish student piano piece 5
He appears somewhat gigglish. He brings an older daughter, Phunne, on stage and whispers, "I've been making babies." She raps and solos on tambourine. The band, having resumed after the piano exhibition, becomes hesitant and confused as Sly, holding a microphone, makes movements toward the keyboard and threatens to say something. A joint-smokin' woman carrying a djembe and wearing a "PhattaDatta" jacket appears at the margins of the stage and prowls around with heavy attitude.
Abruptly, the drummer segués into the same beat that played as the curtain opened; Sly sits down at the keyboard to noodle a couple of two-fingered percussive phrases then gets up. The band finds its way back to "Thank You" and Sly actually sings the chorus a couple of times, his finger thrust into the air. He ambles around the stage a little while longer, still shy and giggly, then wanders off, leaving the band stalled and confused.
And what's a Vegas-style pro cover band supposed to do when an uncomfortable vacuum fills the stage? Solo motherfuckers, solo! There's a bass solo (after the bass player convinces the sound guy to turn his volume back on), a guitar solo, a drum solo, a vocal solo (ouch) and finally a merciful return (did I mention Phunne's tambourine solo?), by the entire band, to "Thank You."
The tune thankfully concluded, Vet Stone, after many hopeful offstage glances, promises that Sly will be back. It's a tempting invitation to stay until the finale, but one that will be declined. Sly made his return and we were there; now it's time to take him for granted and smile.
1 Downtown Disney, an outdoor mall, was, along with California Adventure, part of Disneyland's turn-of-the-century expansion. Tenants include ESPN Zone, Jamba Juice, Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen and House of Blues (Anaheim). continue
2 Dave, I know I told you it was Jerry Martini but I was in a weakened condition and even at full strength I'm not very good with band member names. I'm glad that it wasn't Martini because this guy sounded terrible. I mean, if you haven't played in a while, just come out and wave hello and get off of the stage because a flute amplified by rock and roll sound guys is painful enough without the added complication of weak chops. continue
3 Gerald Rosen would never have done that. continue
4 The L. A. Times reported a "glittery black cape". This was not a cape, alright? A cape does not have sleeves. And who is this Rich Kane reporter guy who can't tell the difference between glitter and studs? continue
5 The L. A. Times reported that it was "Mozart" but they've lost all credibility. If Rich Kane is so up on his Mozart he should be reporting from Disney Hall, not Downtown Disney. continue
© 2007 by John Nyboer