The primary challenge of funk is to add enough variety and melody to the big beat to keep it listenable and danceable at the same time. At Saturday's D.C. Funk Festival at Capital Centre, five bands took the challenge. The results ranged from Con Funk Shun's uplifting success to Edwin Birdsong's embarrassing failure.
Con Funk Shun, a Bay Area octet, recalled the older, funkier days of Earth, Wind & Fire with its insistent momentum and memorable melodies. Con Funk Shun has a sharp, punchy three-horn attack and full-bodied falsetto vocals that overlapped into lush harmonies. The percussionist's poly-rhythms carried the fast tunes like "Shake and Dance With Me," while the capable singing and songwriting of Felton Pilate carried the ballads.
Edwin Birdsong forgot the first rule of funk: Keep it danceable. Playing a feather-bedecked synthesizer on a guitar strap, Birdsong could not sustain a dance beat nor much interest. Much better was Kleer, who counterbalanced their heavy bottom beat with a trio of silky sopranos. The band's versatile talents would have been more appealing had the songs had more substance.
Baltimore's Parris showed its potential on the harmony ballad "Can't Let Go" and inexperience on its covers of other funk tunes. Washington's Experience Unlimited showed similar potential and inexperience in its flashy, driving show in the style of Con Funk Shun.