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Sacramento's merry band of funkateers, The Nibblers, opened up for New Orleans' party-funk phenomena Big Sam's Funky Nation on Sunday night at Harlow’s.
I don't know much, but I do know that whenever our Nibblers join forces with a New Orleans powerfunk group led by a virtuoso slide trombonist featured prominently in HBO's "Treme," you better drop whatever you're doing and head on over.
It is always an incredible show.
I wasn't feeling well on Sunday evening, to the point where I was actively soliciting offers to take over my spot covering the show. (By "actively soliciting offers", I mean "updating my Facebook status from bed".)
Boy, am I glad I didn't find any takers.
I arrived about 9:20 and, eschewing my usual PBR for a tall glass of ice water, I headed over to my usual spot at the front left side of the stage.
The hometown heroes took the stage at 9:30, and by 9:31 the dance floor was fully bumping.
It was a typically high-energy Nibblers set, New Orleans soul flavored liberally with jazzy horns and funky beats.
Lead singer Hans Eberbach chopped it up with the gathered revelers throughout.
"It's only been, what, a week since we last played? Feels like forever!" he said.
The crowd, as it always is at Nibblers shows, particularly those at Harlow's, was an eclectic mix. The 20-somethings were about as well represented as the 60-somethings, with the majority of the crowd falling somewhere betwixt the two.
As far as a ratio of sexes goes, let's just say that the ladies love The Nibblers.
A couple of the highlights were songs I knew well from previous Nibblers performances: the churning, bluesy "Memphis Train" ("The train's a-coming!") and maybe their signature hit, "Baby Let Me Kiss You" (the ladies go crazy for this one — really, everyone does).
My favorite song of the night, however, was one that I did not immediately recognize. "Going Slowly Down" is an unexpected, ska-tinged burner featuring some wahhed-out guitar that really stood out. In the middle of the song they transitioned seamlessly into a couple minutes of the ubiquitous Bob Marley classic "Three Little Birds" before returning whence they began.
During the Marley interlude, a familiarly sweet, skunky, smoke began wafting up from the center of the dance floor. Cliched, I know. It wasn't mine.
They closed their set with the straight up funk-rock "Improve," which packs a wallop, and a positive message to boot. ("Take a look around. . . and see what you can improve.")
They left the stage to wildly enthusiastic applause at 10:30 p.m. on the button.
Big Sam had still not taken the stage when 11 p.m. rolled around, and, with a lesser crowd, the natives may have started getting restless.
Not these guys, however. There was a steady 10- to 20-person dance party going on pretty much the entire set break to the filler music playing over the venue speakers. These folks weren't afraid to dance while waiting to dance. All night, it was one of the best dancing crowds I've ever seen at Harlow's, no matter who was (or wasn't) on stage.
11:10 p.m., a voice came over the speakers: "Are you ready to have a good time?!" On came Funky Nation.
The New Orleans five-piece (guitar, drums, bass, trumpet and Big Sam on trombone) came out guns a-blazing and didn't slow down for the entirety of the 90-plus-minute set.
Trombone Shorty threw down the gauntlet with their Harlow's appearance back in September. Going in, I didn't give Sam and the boys much of a chance to match it.
Oh, me of little faith.
Funky Nation absolutely killed it.
I don't know if I've ever seen a performer exert more energy during a 90-minute set than Big Sam did Sunday night. From the moment he took the stage, he was a dancing fool, fully matching the delirious crowd tearing up the dance floor in front of the stage. Some of his moves were Kid ‘n Play-esque, which I consider to be high praise.
They heavily involved the audience throughout the set, launching into all manner of call and response ("Say hell yeah!" "Y'all feeling good? Then scream!" ), as well as numerous call and reacts ("Put your hands up!" "Get low!").
And how about this medley right here: "It's Your Thing" > "No Diggity" > "Cool Like That" > "Hip Hop Hooray" > "Dolla Dolla Bill Y'all"?
If that doesn't get your juices flowing, I'm pretty sure we can't be friends anymore.
At the end of this absurdly dope medley, Big Sam and trumpet player Andrew Bahum left the stage for a few, leaving guitarist Takeshi Shimmura, bassist Eric Vogel and drummer "Chocolate Milk" ("He does a body good!") to drop a searing, almost experimental fusion jazz break, featuring crushing solos from all three.
They had built to a crescendo when the horns came back out, and Sam got utterly loose on the slide trombone. He would break up his wailing lead trombone solo with little comical womp bursts, aimed in the face of revelers (generally female) in front of the stage. Dude's a master showman and had the crowd eating out of his hands.
At one point a birthday was announced. Turns out it was Big Sam’s birthday as well. The birthday girl was hanging out in the back of the room, and Sam wouldn't stand for it: "You can't be scared and all sitting down in the back. Get your ass up here!"
She did just that, and they went into a jam on "Happy Birthday," which then turned into an epic "Treme," which turned into an epic version of "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," which, of course, turned into "Let It Shine," which turned into "You Are My Sunshine," at which point I passed out.
I got one more for you.
After getting the whole crowd to give "spirit fingers," they went into Prince's "You Sexy Motherfucker" > Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" > Kanye’s "Golddigger" > Lil Jon’s "Get Low" (during which the whole crowd and all band members who were able got down on the ground) > "Shout!" (a little bit louder now!) > "Jump Jump" (not sure if it was the Kris Kross or House of Pain version — I was delirious by this point) > Ceelo’s "Fuck You" > Lady Gaga’s "Bad Romance" (I think, or maybe "Poker Face") > Black Eyed Peas’ "Humps."
It was absolutely insane, and the crowd was in a full-blown tizzy.
They finished the set with — what else? — the theme to “The Flintstones.”
The horns left the stage at 12:40 p.m., with the trio following them off a couple minutes later. At this point, I would say only about half of the crowd remained from a high of 150 or so.
Luckily, it was the loud half, and by 12:45 we had spurred on our champion’s return.
Did they encore with "When the Saints Go Marching In”? You bet your sweet bippy they did.
And did they adjust the lyrics to refer back to the 2010 New Orleans Saints Super Bowl victory ("Who dat saying dey gonna beat dem Saints?")? You're darn tooting!
And did Big Sam and A.B. lead the crowd in a conga line around the whole of the venue while all this was going down?
They'd have been crazy not too.