Sunday, July 8, 2007

Concert Review: Sly and the Family Stone Reunite in San Jose After Almost 40 Years Apart

The 2,000 hopeful fans who slogged through an eight-hour festival of Christian, Latin and old school funk music waiting for the return of Vallejo Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Sly Stone Saturday got exactly 13 minutes to dance to the music with their hero who has been a recluse for 20 years.

Stone's four songs in a new park outside San Jose's H-P Pavilion brought to mind the recent tours of another Kentucky fried rock star, Brian Wilson, a drug survivor who never seems entirely there anymore.

After sets by members of Malo, the Average White Band and Masada, at this "Back in the Day Festival," Stone trudged out in a white hooded ensemble, with large wrap-around sunglasses, looking like something from the mines in "Star Wars."

He showed up toward the end of a truncated set of Stone classics by the Family Stone band led by his sister Vet on vocals, Lisa Stone also singing and Cynthia Robinson on trumpet. The group was two hours late because other acts ran long, and then the show had to stop before a 9 p.m. curfew.

"The reason I got to leave here now is because of the cops, OK?" Sly said, after a churning, lyrics-forgotten, "I Want to Take You Higher," which ended the night. Earlier Vet apologized to the audience for the 45-minute set, saying "For once it's not our fault."

This is the first show in what has been promised to be a tour that will swing through Europe. Tickets were only $15 for general admission.

With a voice that rang true and familiar at times, slippery and forgetful at others, Stone, 64, chimed in on "Sing a Simple Song," off 1969's "Stand!" He wandered the stage and occasionally sat behind his keyboard for some erratic psychedelic licks.

His take on 1973's "If You Want Me to Stay'' was a fine piece of nostalgia, although it was marred by feedback problems as a shaky Sly held the microphone and walked around hunched over. The song, though, like much of the band's work, has held up perfectly over time, losing none of its freshness.

"Thank you for loving the icon,'' shouted singer Skyler Jett as Stone left the stage. "He's back."

Stone, a former pioneering San Francisco rock radio DJ whose performance almost stole the show at the original Woodstock in 1969, has lost the fire of the early days after years of drug abuse. With a blond Mohawk, he made a brief appearance at the Grammys earlier this year, mysteriously walking offstage before his song was done.

The new venue outside the Arena ran fine, fitting a crowd that ranged from 2000-3,000 comfortably. Other promoters were there taking pictures and checking site lines, with an eye to future concerts. This was promoter Franco Herrero's first event here and was followed by a day of Christian music Sunday.

San Jose fans were thrilled to see Sly, although some were angry that he didn't come out at the beginning of the set.

When singer Jett yelled, "San Jose, are you in the house?" one fan yelled back, "We are, but where the fuck is Sly?"

For others, it was the end of a long, long wait.

"I'll believe it when I see it," said Gene Powell, 57, a math and science teacher at Sylvandale Middle School. "I saw Sly do four songs in Sacramento in 1972. Then, I went to see him three other times and he never showed up. I'm most definitely excited to see him now."


s said...

Thanks so much for this Brad! Was I under a rock -- how could I have missed this? I'm glad Sly is back!

s said...

Oh yes, and your blog is officially bookmarked! Best of Luck!