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Larry Graham And Graham Central Station At BB King's, Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Greater than Bootsy Collins, greater than Jimmy Blanton, Charlie Mingus, or James Jamerson, the former Sly and The Family Stone, current Graham Central Station bassist, Larry Graham owns the accolade best bass player ever.

Larry would own it if only for inventing the slap technique of bass playing -essentially, he turns the bass into an additional drum, Friday night at BB King's he deserved it from the first song, "We've Been Waiting" -hardly 58 seconds of a cappella clap alon on record,, a 1970's disco workout for an astonishing 20 minutes of finger picking rock hard 70's funk-danc on stage.

An astounding workout out and only the first workout of this two plus hours set.

Before the first song is over, Graham's white kaftan has become translucent and the audience at an if not sold out I don't see how  sold out could not include a  visit from the Fire Department is possible BB King's,  is sopping wet .

The set is by the numbers, but geez what a generous, set of perfect numbers they are. With two keyboard players, chick singer Biscuit sharing lead vocals, guitarist and an excellent drummer, this bass powered ensemble hit it and hit it and hit it. "Dancing and singing is all I ever really wanted to do," Graham claims in his pleasant though not quite strong baritone. And then he proves it.

Graham, a born again Christian responsible for introducing Prince to the Jehovah's Witness, is a gifted band leader, he makes the bass a central station portion of the proceedings, and he can dance, and everything that is going on stage reaches its apotheosis on the dancefloor. CCS (the baddest band from east to West, we chant) are first rate. But the set itself is overwhelming and exhausting with exactly one ballad, "One In A Million" his Billboard #9 crossover hit, and he exhausted me, though perhaps not all members of the audience. A woman maybe in her 60s dances like a maniac,.sits down, takes three long breaths of air, stands up and does it again!

Even crowd pleaser (actually, they are all crowd pleasers) "Can't Stand The Rain" is a tremendous Chaka Khan-y work out. For "One In A Million", Larry let's a guy who had interviewed him earlier in the day come on stage and propose to his girlfriend before the song. The crowd goes bonkers, and Graham is beaming and overjoyed. It is worth noting here that I, as a man with no faith to speak of, can't help but admire how for some 40 years, Graham's faith has grounded him and his marriage, He has spent the night apart from his wife for a total of two days in FORTY YEARS and he uses "One In A Million" to celebrate fidelity and God. though he doesn't proselytize at all.Compare Larry with Sly Stone, who lost his way with a different set of faiths and was very depressing at this very venue a couple of years ago.

A little later, in a concert highlight, he plays a galvanized "Higher Ground" where all the strands of the night seem to meet on the Stevie Wonder. This leads to an explanation of bass slapping and meeting DJ Sly Stone before an excellent and exhilarating  Sly And The Family Stone Medley including "Family Affair", "Everyday People" ("my favorite song to play because it's only one note") and for some reason "The Jam" is in there somewhere.

There are quite a few set pieces tonight, a bass solo that lasts over ten minutes revolving around the legend "Ain't no party like a New York party, ain't no party like ours" . This was Graham as art funker, using the mic stand and his teeth to pick the notes. Another is the march through the audience with drums pounding to start the set. And a third is an excellent audience participation during the Sly section where members of the audience freestyle to "Does anybody want some of this?". Either folks auditioned earlier or the average Graham fan is around 50 million times more gifted than i am..

The encore is "I Wanna Take You Higher" and it is a pure eruption that leaves those still in their seats, out of them.

I did have reservations, and it is about Graham as a songwriter. I have never been a huge fan of his songwriting, and listening to the Sly Stone numbers reinforces my misgivings. Giving Graham's abilities and potential, he shouldn't have mainlined in the 1980s. The reason he did  is except for a handful of songs, his songs work only as extended, excellent, jams.

This was a problem Friday night, the set is all lean bass jams and despite the set pieces, it doesn't have the shading of a Sly Stone. Funk par excellence will take you a long way but over two hours it is a helluva lot when your melody lines are missing in action. From Sly to Prince (a straight line), pop music always had equal footing with funk, with r&b -hell, even George Clinton had "One Nation Under A Groove" . Larry is about the dance, he is about the relentless funk power of the bass so much so he DOESN'T HAVE A HORN SECTION. To put it diplomatically, it doesn't crossover, to put it less diplomatic, white boys can't singalong.

This explains his inability to maintain a career with the the power of a Prince, or  Stevie Wonder… Hell, even ray Charles went country.

 Does it matter when you are the best bass player ever? Dance to the music and decide for yourself.

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