Tribute bands. A dangerous proposition indeed. Sure, it's nice to hear some of your favorite songs live, but do you really want to see, say, some prissy dude in a blonde wig and leather pants not exactly doing a tribute to, but rather an impression of, Robert Plant?
Enter former local mainstay Joey Porter's recent slate of funk-based tributes, which has seen him gather a diverse group of local dynamos to shell out good, old-fashioned tributes to classic funk artists like James Brown, Herbie Hancock, and Sly and the Family Stone.
The operative word here is tribute. Not cover band. Not persona band. Tribute band. And with eight skilled musicians firing through 21 classics by the Motor City's most beloved son, Stevie Wonder, on Saturday night, the band executed a tribute that shook the dank basement of the Goodfoot to its foundation, the writhing masses dancing maniacally in a trancelike way that only the music of Stevie can induce.
These weren't impressions by a longshot, and between Jans Ingber and Intervision crooner Paul Creighton sharing mic duty, Stevie's vocal range was completely covered, joy and charisma shining from the stage as the two vocalists seamlessly indulged their inner soul men. But it wasn't just a vocal showcase. The band, led by Porter's impeccable mastery of the ivories (no, they did not cover “Ebony and Ivory”), rocketed into renditions of Stevie classics both obscure and celebrated, leaving everybody in the place guessing and anybody within earshot dancing.
The band didn't stick to the basics of the Stevie catalogue, either. While hits like “Master Blaster,” “Higher Ground,” “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” and “Superstition” pulsed to the audience's delight, the band omitted such obvious choices as “My Cherie Amour,” “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” “Part Time Lover,” and “Sir Duke.” A wise choice, especially given the latter's huge horn section, which couldn't be worked out, even with the able skills of saxman Joshua Cliburn and trumpeter Steve Cannon, who comprised the horn section.
The band laid it on thick with lesser-known tunes like the funktastic “Superwoman,” “I Wish,” “Jesus Children” and other bangers from the legend's decades-spanning career, taking time to delve into the songs through extended jams that highlighted the strengths of each member of the ensemble.
Maybe I'm gushing a bit, but Porter and crew's tribute was more than a group of people playing the songs they love. These were musicians who seemed to be enjoying every measure of the music they played as much as the massive audience was, playing with a sheer pleasure rare for any live show. And in the end, the electricity, good vibes, and overall feeling of musical bliss lingered as the lights turned on and the grinning musicians took their bows before the drunken masses of dripping, giddy people. It was the kind of show that makes you long for a resurgence of the tribute show in its purest form, and a night that let everybody know that Portland might still have a little funk in its bones.
Joey Porter's Tribute To Stevie WonderSpace
Photo courtesy of Joey Porter