No tomorrow: Oregon Hill's groovy fallback
Oregon Hill Funk All-Stars
at Outback Lodge
Friday, August 29
It felt like a party for someone you don't know very well; listening to the jazzy, loose funk of the Oregon Hill Funk All-Stars inspired good-natured head-bobbing and a desire to move elsewhere after 40 minutes.
Four regular-looking guys from Richmond (the brass section) would sway back and forth for 10 seconds, playfully unconcerned with keeping their step in unison. Their smiles were relaxed, self-confident, and genuinely content. During the band's second set at Outback Lodge, when they did a squealing-falsetto cover of Beck's "Debra," there were no signs of irony, and several graying white folks shook it like they were hearing one from 30 years ago. We were all happy we came.
So, then, what did Midnite Vultures really mean? Beck's 1999 ode to slow jams and smooth '70s funk revived a decaying niche, a Freakenstein monster, with an overload of incongruous trends. The OHFAS are gimmickless, neither time machine nor tribute, a solid 10-piece of various ages and backgrounds who could play the genre as if it had been stunted rather than hackneyed.
They covered Cypress Hill, quoted the JB's, and dabbled in ska, but the groove remained music-box mechanical. The most party-oriented numbers, especially in the second set, were too predictable to sustain my interest, although they did get the (somewhat sparse) crowd onto the dance floor.
I don't mean to demean the rhythm section, for every member of the group could really play. Musicianship was the pleasure of the night, particularly in the brass section, with the saxophonist/bandleader dropping the more expressive and rhythmically intricate solos.
The fifth song of the first set included some tense horn harmonies, although by the end of everyone's solo, any momentum had slowed considerably. I imagine that the OHFAS are one of the best in the region at what they do; their cool vibe is a bit weak for the booty-dancing numbers, but they are tight enough to play with structure and tempo when they want to.
Although the OHFAS forgoes surprises, its most routine covers and generic exercises were what Friday's crowd seemed to want most. You get what you pay for, six bucks of funk, a snack that left me far from full. It was a living reminder, a memo, a substitute, a mild night to be forgotten in itself.
Friday was the band's third appearance at the Lodge this year, and a local audience should continue to build.