Sunday, January 14, 2007

DVD Review- Funkadelic- Live, Fall '79 Uncle Jam Tour

This DVD comes from a well known bootlegger who inserted his name and e-mail address on the screen for the duration of the whole DVD. The bootlegger distributed a previously unknown P-Funk DVD from a 1978 show in Passaic, New Jersey and once again the material on this DVD hasn't been around most collectors until now. That said, this review is not meant to encourage bootlegging, but simply to comment on a newly unearthed vintage P-Funk performance. The only easily available footage of the late 1979 Uncle Jam tour was a half hour of mediocre (for a boot, no less) quality video which was ostensibly from Houston. I haven't double checked, but I am quite sure the previously available video was in fact from Washington D.C. because the familiar looking portions on this new DVD like "Sadie" resemble the half hour that has been floating around for years. The band repeatedly refer to "D.C." and "Chocolate City", before the source changes to a completely different performance which is definitely from Houston. The segment that die-hard fans already had is now twice as long; there is almost an hour from this performance, which has its lulls ("Sadie", "Uncle Jam") but also features some stellar moments like "Red Hot Mama" and a terrific Bernie Worrell solo before a hot version of "Maggott Brain" which fades out while the DVD cuts to the Houston concert from the Uncle Jam tour.
The Houston portion of this DVD kicks off with a twenty-three minute blow-out of "Knee Deep" before the band launches into comparatively short versions of "One Nation Under A Groove" and "Flashlight". Maceo Parker leads the Horny Horns through some blazing jams in both the Houston and D.C. clips. The "Mothership Connection" encore is pretty hot, and the Houston show ends. The house lights are turned on and we see the audience leaving before a montage of stills from the performance are displayed while the studio recording of "Freak of the Week" plays. The Houston segment is about 45 minutes long.
Gary Shider and Philippe Wynne lead the band through most of these performances. George Clinton is on stage as the Washington D.C. gig cuts in during "Night of the Thumpasaurus People", wearing his blond wig. This is about all we see of him in this DVD. Once he leaves the stage, though, the band takes direction from Gary or Philippe. Of course Gary was a veteren of Parliament-Funkadelic by the end of the seventies, but Philippe Wynne seemed to have been a sudden and awkward fit. He didn't tour with the band again. Presumably, the ex-Spinner's solo album produced by George helped land him a spot on the Uncle Jam tour, but his Spinners stage attire (a dark suit) looks as odd on a P-Funk stage as "Sadie" sounds when played by the band that just finished a searing blow-out of "Red Hot Mama".
The DVD starts off with some amusing promo-spots for Uncle Jam related product; albums from Parliament, the Sweat Band and the afore-mentioned Philippe Wynne l.p "Wynne Jamming", which are interspersed with a funny clip of Wynne, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton and Maceo Parker being interviewed at a hotel in Houston on the Uncle Jam tour. The band clowns around in the hallway while a rather energetic and fast talking George Clinton tells the interviewer he's not really Uncle Jam at all, but rather Sir Nose. A telling moment, indeed.
As far as the quality, this DVD is for serious fans only. Regardless of what one thinks of the Uncle Jam tour, there are better quality videos of P-Funk in action.
For some reason, Houston and Washington D.C. are a great couple of cities when it comes to finding unreleased videos and DVDs. Performances of Prince, Kiss, the Who and P-Funk going back to 1975 have been floating around collectors' circles for years, while there are also a number of videos of P-Funk from the Washington D.C. area recorded over the years. It seems the DVDs and videos of these shows were taken from whatever would have been shown on a large screen inside the venue. Such is the case with many well known videos of 1970's concerts, like a Springsteen show on his birthday in 1978 when he marvels at the size of the screen in the Capital Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey. While collectors routinely refer to these as 'pro-shot' performances, there doesn't seem to be any consensus as to how these documents started making the rounds. Of course, nobody is complaining either. Sonically, the DVD is a pleasure over all, but the sound levels fluctuate noticeably between the left and right channels. The image is decent, but pretty dark, with the clarity level comparable to previously circulating VHS tapes of this footage. In fact, the DVD even has the same diagonal lines streaming off at the top of the screen as my old video tape copy, which could probably have been cropped out, but the guy who compiled this was too busy making sure his name and contact information was on-screen to try improving the image of these performances. The Houston footage looks a little more grainy than the Washington D.C. portion, and the image is a bit shaky sometimes, especially if anyone on stage is moving quickly. It's still watchable for a boot, and certain to be a welcome addition to any die-hard fan's P-Funk collection. This performance has been uploaded for free on-line more than once, so it should be easy enough to find without having to pay for a copy.

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