On the Sly

He makes babies, photo by John Gilhooley

Three-plus hours after the doors opened, an hour-plus after the house deejay had spun every last funk record in his milk crate, and 12 songs into the frustratingly late-starting set by "the only tribute band Sly Stone endorses," the pop-music [pick one: genius/burnout] everyone had come to [pick again: love, honor, respect/view as one would a wreck between cargo trains smuggling crack] finally ambled onto the stage, still sporting the sky-scraping blond mohawk, thick sunglasses and freakishly hunched back Grammy viewers gawked at, with mouths agape, 11 months ago. The band known as Phunk Phamily Affair before Sly recently renamed them had just rekindled late '60s psychedelic-soul magic, competently running through such hits as "Stand!," "Dance to the Music," "Everyday People," "Hot Fun in the Summertime" and "A Family Affair," which featured fine vocals from Sly's niece, Lisa Stone. But then came an uncharacteristically choppy "Thank You (Falenttinme Be Mice Elf Again)," a song that enormously influenced funk undone here by other Sly nieces, daughters and indeterminate relations blowing on and off stage to jam or belt out lyrics with the tight group that included original Sly trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, saxophonist Pat Rizzo and Sly's little sister Vaetta "Vet Stone" Stewart, ex of Little Sister, the original Family Stone's backup singers. Amid the chaos, the man once dubbed the "J.D. Salinger of Funk" strode out from the wings, raised his fists in the air, jumped in place like a victorious prizefighter, waved his arm at his offspring and explained "I make babies," gargled half a verse, pounded a few synthesizer keys and then slinked away, like he always does. With prompting from the band, the crowd chanted for more Sly before singer Skyler Jett went backstage to retrieve this report: Sly promises he'll be back. Stone kept that promise at the beginning of the next song, "I Want to Take You Higher," when he emerged from between the curtains like a benevolent dictator on a veranda, gently waving, mouthing "I love you" to the masses and grunting "higher, higher." Then he slinked away, like he always does. (Matt Coker)

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