Bootsy Collins Presents: Shag Live! (Solid)

By Bob Bahr

Cincinnati funk band Shag, which captures fans with their live show the surefire way shag carpet collects crumbs, probably isn't going to make a lot of new converts with this new live recording. Although it's an entirely grooving affair, Shag Live! doesn't have the presence or power to grab your undying attention.

The horn charts and horn playing are sharp and tight, the grooves are beyond reproach, the bass-drums interaction is dynamic. But it never catches fire in an undeniable way. Two or three minutes of vamping leaves a listener bored.

Don't look to the bass player for Shag's flaw. After all, this band is produced by Bootsy Collins; the funk icon wouldn't waste his time on a band with a punky bass player. The guitar player is beyond reproach, though he's no Eddie Hazel. The drummer is a monster. But the seven songs on Shag Live! latch on to a groove and ride it to the exclusion of diversity in song structure.

Frankly, this reviewer cannot hear this band and not compare it to Parliament, and the comparison is not a flattering one for this Cincy band. Where's the innovative musical voice that the Parliament-Funkadelic Thang had in keyboardist Bernie Worrell? Where is the space-age, silly humor of Bootsy's solo albums? Shag takes the basics of funk music's appeal, but stops short of breaking out into a compelling ensemble. "Part of You (Part of Me)" approaches a cool lyrical state, "Hand Me Down" might move you to sing along with the chorus, and "Connection" has a certain appealing energy, but for the most part, the listener is left with the feeling that you had to be there.

If you've seen live Parliament, you know that the catch phrase "Ain't no party like a P-funk party 'cause a P-funk party don't stop" has multiple meanings. A band like Parliament -- and Shag -- is stretched out and solo-happy in its natural state. This translates well on a live recording for only the most groove-oriented and hardcore fans. You can slap this on if you want people to dance at your party. You can bob your head through one of record's long cuts that would last all the way through a slow cruise in Cherokee Park. Just don't sit down and expect to get blown away by this effort. In short, Shag Live! is a documentation of a solid funk band that hopefully fires more brightly in person. This recording is only a few cool licks and a promise of more.