August 28, 2008

War Brings True Impact of Fusion to Artpark Stage

By Jeff Miers

California in the 1960s. It gave us an awful lot.

CSN& sometimes Y, the Airplane, the wonderful and beautiful Grateful Dead, Santana, Quicksilver, and, though she wasn't from there, Janis. And then there's Love and the Doors, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, too, not to mention Steve Miller's Band, and then Journey as well, for good or ill.

California also gave us one of the finer bands to fuse Latin, funk, reggae, soul and R&B.

War emerged from the '60s as a precursor to George Clinton's bands, oh so able to marry the disparate sounds echoing through the ghettos of L.A. into a cogent, powerful and genre-bending form of music.

War didn't break through until the '70s, but its roots are firmly in the '60s, when social, political and musical conceptions intermingled as if they had every right to.

Remarkably, all these years later, with only one original member in evidence, War brought the impact of true fusion music to Artpark on an idyllic Tuesday evening. Everyone seemed to get it, too, the naively compelling hybrid of black and white music. Wow. Sometimes you can be shown the light, in the strangest of places.

If you look at it right.

War may be predominantly an oldies act, but lord do these cats play with the energy of the recently anointed. Led by Lonnie Jordan on keys and vocals, the seven-piece band had its way with old school R&B, funk, pop, soul, reggae and various permutations of the Latin groove throughout. This was one of the first multiracial, multi- ethnic bands going, and it remains such today.

Opening with "The Cisco Kid," a straight-up Latin groove with some nice soul chord changes thrown on top, the group established a deep pocket that it never fell out of. Though the band is perhaps most famous to Caucasian '70s radio listeners as the band that invited the Animals' Eric Burdon to join them as lead vocalist, War had already established itself as a funk-fusion group.

So, though we got an inspired "Spill the Wine" on Tuesday, the Burdon was hardly the emphasis of the show. In fact, the group's anthemic reggae-based hit "Why Can't We Be Friends" provided the evening's pinnacle, its blend of utopianism and gluey reggae serving to frame the evening. War may be concentrating on hits from the distant and dim past. But those songs -- particularly a near end-of- set "Low Rider" -- came across as fresh on Tuesday, Perhaps we're not done fusing the disparate influences and histories of our citizens, huh, America?

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Tuesday night as part of Tuesday in the Park series at Artpark.

Originally published by NEWS POP MUSIC CRITIC.

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