Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

James Brown—
Love Power Peace


Released 1992 on Polydor
The Seth Man, November 2006ce
“Givvitoomeh”

Is Paris sweating?

On March 8, 1971 parts of the Olympia certainly were, for it was the venue where the wholly live “Love Power Peace” was recorded. It isn’t one of the many overdubbed audience “live” James Brown recordings released from this time. It’s entirely live, and the only complete live album to features the too short-lived lineup of The JB’s and the Collins kids, Bootsy and Phelps Collins in tow. And that night the entire band earned their pay down to the last dime they stopped on, and there’s no way anybody was fined a damn centime afterwards.

Why? The album is fantastic. Plus, I’ve viewed the concert footage and for nearly the entire time the audience is up and at ‘em in joyous release. It’s like a riot ‘cept nobody’s getting hurt. Despite the concert seating, they’re getting down and furiously so: especially during “Sex Machine” and the final five run-on tracks. The camera catches a pretty woman dancing up in front, hair straightened into flowing length and wearing what looks to be the uniform of a South African Airways flight attendant from the late sixties. She’s gettin’ down.

And that cool dude down in front in a suit and shades standing up alonius like Thelonius Monk?
He’s getting’ down.

And the French guy in the white turtleneck and Chanel scarf waving his arms in the air and grinning like a fool who just found himself embarking on the road to Funk Damascus?
He’s gettin’ down.

Most of the audience during the evening’s performance?
They’re gettin’ down.

JB Dancer, Ann Norman?
She’s REALLY gettin’ down. (Givvitoomeh!)

And as for the band onstage...You got it: gettin’ down. SERIOUSLY gettin’ down and with a fever of a hundred and twelve. Bobby Byrd’s roar of a baritone coming out of his beanpole carriage dressed in white and sporting a pair of badass wingtips. And the tall, gangly and ever-grinning William “Bootsy” Collins on Fender P-bass and brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins on a mysterious make of hollow-bodied guitar joined and brought a whole new dimension to the funk circus they ran away from home to join. Hearlon “Cheese” Martin on Telecaster guitar spewing tight, chopped-up rhythms left and right. And The JB’s: Take a bow, Fred Wesley on trombone; St. Clair Pinkney on tenor sax; Darryl “Hassan” Jamison and Clayton “Chicken” Gunnells on trumpets. Then the two drummers, John “Jabo” Starks and Don Juan “Tiger” Martin who lock into the same pattern with nary a deviation, sounding like one drummer hitting true and square forever. One with the mutton chops is slack-jawed and nodding his head from side to side in meditation and his playing and that of his partner is so unadorned and steady it makes even the venerable Jaki Liebezeit seem like -- unbelievable but true -- Carl Palmer in comparison. I never thought I’d ever hear a drummer to say that, but here they are and there’s TWO of ‘em AND playing in perfect synchronisation. Live. Rounding off this full sound is the back line brass and string sections directed by David Matthews and the end result is a group pocket is as tight as a hand wearing a glove and making a fist, with the consistency of rice pudding and other goodies, the size of Ausable Chasm, the universe-sized space in my head and all of the above.

And James Brown? Well, it goes without saying he’s more than gettin’ down as he’s causing it all to happen in the first place. “My week beats your year” deadpanned Lou on the gatefold of “Metal Machine Music,” which very well may have been the case but during the early seventies James Brown’s nanosecond had already beaten everyone’s hour, and had for years at that. He’s the eye of the hurricane, a director of groove, a channeller of experience, a sculptor of thang, a mover, a groover, a money maker, a shaker, a dancer, a shimmier, a quiverer and a non-stop showstopper in search of the bridge. I saw a quote on the street the other week that read “All give some, some give all.” James Brown was the latter, and to give it all, he needed to create a space for himself and the form he chose was that of a revue: a show within the show that was “THE JAMES BROWN SHOW!” Preliminaries abound with introductions, solo spots, vocal back’n’forths between James and cohort Bobby Byrd, bows, entreaties to both audience and band alike and although can be viewed as stock stagecraft tricks of the trades from an earlier place and time, they also have the very practical application of keeping the course of the River James Brown flowing in the right direction: forward, and always to the heart of the matter.

And ever-forward it is, and always will be. For onstage James is a master multi-taskmaster (I bet offstage he probably was, too: I can just see him on the tour bus punching tickets with a conductor’s hat, counting the take from the door, laying a new coat of paint on the surface of the monogrammed bandstands, mending his jumpsuit’s pant leg and pressing his suits all at once without missing a beat.) and the performance is incendiary, movin’, groovin’ and a-loovin’ and they take over the place from the opening horn salvo until curtain close. It’s not much on paper: the sparseness, repetition and the dearth of lyrics that cut into the flurry of insistently tight rhythms could fit on several post-its written in block capitals while the exhortations spray-painted on a coupla king-sized bed sheets. And these last-named proclamations are more important, cos they’re in there for the sake of keeping the groove momentum going, the group tight and together and, as they say: totally in the pocket. And all these exhortations, punctuations, screams and whispers are issued fast and furious to steadily cue the band’s each and every move. The band HAD to be lean, taut, tight and over-rehearsed just so that they would never stray off their predetermined grooves. And although many of his punctuations were scripted in advance, Brown is the only improviser here and everything else needs to adhere to the strictest holding pattern. Unless of course, there’s a cue from James Brown to either keep doin’ it, recommence, stop or drop another load of the good stuff all over the place.

James Brown is Mr. Excitement himself. And with a résumé the size of a continent with umpteen R&B/soul number ones under his belt and a huge reserve of energy, in live performance he holds nothing back. Half the time he’s just barking out orders, cajoling the band, audience and himself in order to whip everything into an über froth and drop funk the magnitude of Tsar Bomba (Whoa -- you mean the 57 megaton hydrogen bomb the Russkies exploded in 1962, 4,000 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima? Lucky the damn thing didn’t set the entire fucking atmosphere on fire) but a Tsar Bomba that only destroys the bad stuff, and creates inspiration and leaves the good stuff.



“Hitmeh”

Catching Bobby Byrd cackling off-mike in glee, he quickly composes himself and bellows out low the well known stage salutation, “Good evening, ladies an’ gennlemen! James Brown Enterprises proudly presents...” He pauses as both front and back brass sections blow an introductory salvo befitting of gigantic feats about to be achieved and in the biggest way possible as well as the inauguration of every major sporting and political event combined. It halts on a dime so Byrd can finish: “...THE JAMES BROWN SHOW!” The brass reiterates the fanfare and then a recessed funk background is assumed for James’ entry and advance to centre stage as Bobby Byrd introduces him. The audience erupts and surges forward, then all music falls away to James Brown’s first incantation: “The brother got the rapp!/The brother got the rapp!/The brother got the rapp!/The brother got the.../HITMEH!”

Uptight and out of sight, the up-tempo “Brother Rapp” is the perfect set opener that gets everybody in the mood immediately. A pair of double-quick time, clattering snare rolls sweep like machine gun crossfire outta nowhere and is the only non-groove instances of the entire performance: inserted as a rocket-boosting intro to get the whole thing a-movin’ over James Brown executing a series of deft moves and giving the Olympia parquet the first of many work outs. Downshifting, the band eases right into “Ain’t It Funky Now.” Not so much a question as a statement, it’s wholly affirmative but then again: so was everything James Brown was all about. And he’s super munificent, too: deigning to share the field with the major players in his band and leading them out to patches they can call their own. Phelps Collins’ extended and splintery guitar solo is like Hound Dog Taylor channeling a live ’71 Jimmy Page letting loose with a patch of distended megadiddley, and it’s excellent. James Brown then directs Fred Wesley to cut loose on his trombone. He solos like few can or could and even less would feel the inclination to. As he finishes up, James Brown entreats the audience to give him a big round of applause. They do. “Hitmeh!” James Brown heads over to the vacant organ spot to resounding whistles from the audience and he starts tearing into it and that’s excellent, too.

Darkness descends and a single spot highlights James Brown’s already perspiring head in beaded chiaroscuro as the pace slows way down and the full string and horn section back Brown on the familiar standard “Georgia On My Mind,” serving to please not only the audience but probably native son James Brown himself. This and the sprinkling of ballads and old faves during the first half of the set casts in deep relief the dynamic sense emotional of range which will later scale the very heights of groovitude. Towards the end the band cuts out so James can ask the audience if they feel alright. Ha, do they ever. The audience roars back in assent, so then he starts in with teasing the audience with titles of hits from his massive back catalogue and there’s a resounding response from the house after each tune. James Brown returns to the final line and this “just old, sweet song” ends.

A furious, false-bottom funk rampage ensues, then halting into the more rhythmically complicated paces of “It’s A New Day” with descending guitar and bass against blaring brass construction work and impeccable drumming, natch. James Brown shrieks to accent the pocket, and the after the mid-section plateau of groove, it falls away so James Brown can rhythmically command everybody to clap their hands and stomp their feet, c’mon. “HITMEH!”

Flanked fore and aft by ballads (“Bewildered” and “Try Me”) is the centrepiece of the set, “Sex Machine.” Bobby Byrd’s at the mic, repeating and getting James more and more heated with single words yelled back in response:


James: “I’m ready to get up and do my thing!”
Bobby: “YEAH!”
James: “I wanna get up and do my thing!”
Bobby: “YEAHH!”
James: “I wanna get into it!”
Bobby: “YEAH!”
James: “Like a...Like a...!”
Bobby: “WHAT?!”
James: “Like a...!”
Bobby: “WHATT?!!”
James: “Like a...!”
Bobby: “WHATTT?!!”
James: “Like a...!”
Bobby: “WHATTT?!!”
James: “Like a...!”
Bobby: “WHATTTT?!!”
James: “LIKE A SEX MACHINE!!!!!!”
Bobby: “YEAH!”
James: “LIKE A SEX MACHINE!!!!!!”
Bobby: “YEAH! YEAH!”
James: “LIKE A SEX MACHINE!!!!!!”
Bobby: “YEAH!”


...And the rapid repartee continues. If you had just wandered into the hall, you’d think there was an argument going on over ‘counting something off.’ But with a quick blast of horn vignette from The JB’s it’s all resolved and into “Sex Machine.” The longer it goes on, the looser it gets and after five minutes of building, heading for the bridge, Phelps Collins’ tightly roped-in and funked-out and fortified Wes Montgomery guitar solo, it’s propelling James Brown closer to the edge of that brink he’s been dancing all around seemingly forever.



“Goohgawd”

It’s all change from the last notes of the ballad “Try Me” into a fiercely economical medley done at warp speed as if to quickly hit as many bases as possible and get outta there and back into the heart of the matter. “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” is a few seconds’ worth of chorus while “I Got You (I Feel Good)” is a 78rpm rendition of the chorus, “Ifeelgoodifeelgoodsogoodsogoodineedyou...” and “I Got The Feelin’” are all banked and hit sure shots in the JB pinball machine. It is for this medley that JB dancer Ann Norman appears for the first time. Perched atop a small platform elevated behind the band, she is graceful, soulful, petite and wearing only a black bikini with waist-length fringe and white go-go boots. Goohgawd.

“Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose” is for me the absolute highlight of the set. When James Brown gets down to business does he roll up his shirt sleeves to the elbow? No way, that’s for part-timers. As can be seen in the concert film, on the very last note of the introductory brass blast he quickly jettisons his jacket behind him in one fluid motion, revealing his sturdy build straining out of his one-piece blue sleeveless jumpsuit, shimmies right up to the mikestand, gives a swift back kick with his right foot and all in the blink of an eye. I’ve rewound those four seconds over and over, played it stop action and still can’t figure out how he executes such a quick succession of small moves so quickly and with so much class and style. It’s killer, and is appropriate as an entrée for “Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose” which is one of the most invigoratingly rippling grooves that I’ve ever heard. Multi-layered and driving, it’s irresistible. The drumming is spectacular and the snare hits are perfect and crack like no other right on the sweet spot, every time. The tight and blaring brass accenting from the JB’s against the consistency of the dual rhythm guitars, the organ playing by Bobby Byrd that bobs and weaves steadily... at times it’s all in the background, and other times it’s as though EVERYTHING ELSE in the background because the combined effect of the different rhythmic elements produces one pure groove that is the ONLY THING in the foreground. This song is hypnotic and with a false-bottomed ending and return it’s into the muscular re-workings of James Brown’s early classics “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and “Please Please Please” and then it’s REALLY showtime...



"Take Me To The Bridge"

The last segment of the gig is a quarter hour run-through of four songs with a cumulative effect that is supercharged and ever-building. Here they are going for broke and giving it everything they got. James Brown is pushing the band, himself and the audience and hard. James Brown’s sweat index is now at peak levels, with the entire upper torso of his jumpsuit soaked to a darker shade of blue.

“Can I go to the bridge?! To the bridge? HIT IT!” James Brown commands and they’re back into a reprise of “Sex Machine” that sounds like a cross between that combined with the grooves of “Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose.” Just long enough for James Brown to order the band to hit him quick, the band stops double-quick. In silence he barks out, “HIT IT!” and BOOM -- they’ve changed course and it’s now they’re coursing through a kick ass version of “Super Bad.” The band starts bearing down hard on the groove and it’s kept that way, reaching one of multiple climaxes with the peak a tenor sax solo as guitar cross-stitching scratches away continuously. “Sometimes I feel so good -- Goohgawd --I jump back, wanna kiss myself...” Now THAT’S super bad, if anything is. Hey, take it way down so James Brown can lead with a little soul clapping. All of a sudden, that old inciter Bobby Byrd is back, cajoling the whole place and they’re into “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved.” The brass section swings back into full time position, and the track just keeps on driving like an express train on fire directly into “Soul Power.” The brass cuts out and everything drops down to hone the groove ever tighter, as though they’ve switched into dive bomb formation and are zeroing in on their targets. James Brown and Bobby Byrd chant in call and respond and strike their fists in the air with every “Soul Power!” The audience turns into a sea of raised fists. I dunno if he sings the couplet “I’m on the case/In my record store...” or if I that’s just what I hear but either way, I can relate. Deeply. (“The ‘motherfuckers’ version of “Kick Out The James”?! Givvitoomeh!”) “Soul Power” is now well-oiled machine, and once again, it’s back into the last bait/chant of “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” for the grand finale. They all let it loose, but tight. Just like Zeppelin but with a horn section, two guitarists, two drummers, one Bootsy and two maniacs up in front armed with mike stands yelling and egging each other on. James is about to burst through his skin and his mind, and exits the stage, exhausted. Soon, he’s back and cajoling everyone to “hit me/don’t miss me...” Words fail at this point except it’s the hottest performance, ever. Damn.

If there is a message in James Brown’s music it would be this: to feel good, to keep your world sweet, big, smart and most important of all, movin’ on the good foot. Givvitoomeh! ‘cos I need it. Hey, we all do.