They say that great music is food for the soul. If this is the case, then an incredibly well balanced and satisfying meal was served this evening at The Prince Bandroom for an adoring and impressive crowd. Tonight featured the inspired pairing of The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and the legendary Family Stone, fresh from their recent performances at Harvest:The Gathering.

First up this evening were Chicago eight piece The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. Featuring eight brothers playing primarily brass instruments such as trombones, trumpets and a sousaphone, with drums being the only traditional ‘rock’ element on a musical level, the band proceeded to charm the assembled crowd at The Prince, who seemed to have doubled in size with the arrival of the band on stage.

The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are very much a street level, urban take on traditional brass and how it features in music. Upon hearing the wonderful things the band do with the form and structure of their music, this scribe’s immediate thoughts went to some of the early work of artists such as Isaac Hayes, and the emphasis they would place on the way brass was used in the creation of their music.

Tonight, one could almost picture the former Chef from “South Park” on stage, performing his amazing take on the Burt Bacharach/Hal David standard “Walk On By”, with these boys backing him. This type of brass playing is something of a lost art form; that dirty, visceral approach to something treated either as background or shading in music.

The band also proved themselves very well equipped to whip the crowd into a frenzy and really hype them up for the main act this evening. This was one time where the concept of call and response between a band and the crowd watching them worked really well. Track highlights this evening included a storming version of “First Class” and “War”, with a very heartfelt plea for soldiers all over the world to be allowed to come back home. Promoting their latest EP, Bulletproof Brass, tonight was a very accomplished set from an incredibly talented band, with youthful energy to burn. This was a perfect way to warm up for the main act this evening.

It can never be undersold or underestimated how much of an influence that Sly & The Family Stone have had on popular music as we know it. When they first came on the scene with their aptly titled debut album A Brand New Thing, the racially intergrated, multi gender band and its explosive take on music confounded and enthralled in equal measure. Together with such musical luminaries as George Clinton and James Brown, they rewrote the rules of popular music and created what we know as funk. One only has to look at the use of that highly effective tag team vocal on the classic Prince track “1999” to see the influence of The Family Stone loud and clear, which continues with bands to this day.

This scribe discovered Sly & The Family Stone via a cover version of one of their best known tracks, “Stand!”. This was a wonderful moment where one hears a cover of a great track and is so impressed that they want to go back to the source and discover what other great music that the band or artist has created.

Tonight’s lineup of The Family Stone featured three original members, drummer Greg Orrico, saxophonist Jerry Martini and trumpeter/vocalist Cynthia Robinson. They were joined this evening by vocalist Trina Johnsone, keyboardist/vocalist Alex Davis, guitarist Nate Wingfield and bassist Blaise Sison. Opening with what could be best describe as an ad-libbed intro, asking the crowd “Are You Ready?”, the band launched into an absolutely sensational version of one of their best known tracks, “Everyday People”, after teasing the crowd beautifully by playing the opening part of the track for what seemed like an eternity.

Davis, who had a wonderful sense of banter and rapport with the crowd, talked about how the band had just had a day off and had the pleasure of exploring and getting to know our city, calling us ‘everyday people’. That was probably one of many moments this evening where the band wonderfully endeared themselves to this adoring crowd who were primed to sing and dance their hearts out.

The seven members of this band have been playing together for the past year or so. That wonderful sense of locked in togetherness is truly incredible to both see and hear, as evidenced by this evening’s performance. One couldn’t have asked for a better setlist than what was played this evening.

Fantastic tracks like “Hot Fun In The Summertime”, the aforementioned “Stand!”, which seems more relevenat and powerful than ever, and “Family Affair” came thick and fast, one after the other, like someone’s perfect idea of a greatest hits setlist. Most listeners would be familiar with The Family Stone via a stirring cover version of “Everyday People” by Arrested Development in the early 1990s.

The songs performed this evening were developed and extended furthur than their recorded counterparts. This allowed each band member some fantastic solos and spotlights this evening. It was kept beautifully and never became self-indulgent or overblown. There was a rather touching and wonderful moment during Cynthia’s trumpet solo, one of the guys from The Hynotic Brass Ensemble could be seen curled up next to Greg Errico’s drum riser, playing air trumpet!

A highlight was the now seventy year old Martini just about blowing the roof off the place with an utterly blistering solo spot, which also involved some fantastic tambourine work. It is heartening to see that age is no barrier for great music.

It was also utterly wonderful to hear “If You Want Me To Stay” performed live this evening. One of the sexiest songs ever written, it also features one of the most gorgeous basslines ever created. Tonight, bassist Blaise Sison proved to be a ridiculously talented player, definitely matching the defining work of original bassist Larry Graham. This also displays what was and always has been at the heart of The Family Stone. While initially the vision of Sly Stone, this sense of musical identity and being was created by some brilliant players. Tonight was no exception to that ethos that has always been part of the band.

The crowd were totally into this evening, singing and dancing like their lives depended on it. It is still utterly inspiring to see a band, any band, inspire such positive feelings and reactions with a crowd, totally dispelling Melbourne’s reputation as ‘the city of folded arms’ as far as live music is concerned.

After closing their main set with an utterly spellbinding and incedinary version of “I Wanna Take You Higher”, the band returned for their encore. A beautiful tribute was paid to the band’s founding father, Sylvester “Sly” Stone, who couldn’t be here with the band this evening. Unfortunately, long term drug abuse has taken its toll on Stone, who thankfully is still with us. One hopes that he overcomes his problems and joins the band once more. His career has mirrored that of Syd Barret, the founder of Pink Floyd.

Both men have been classic cases of the bright that burns twice as bright lasting half as long. The band have a great deal of love and respect for the man, despite his flaws and issues. This was never more evident in the choice of final song for this evening, which the band wanted us to sing as loud as we could so Sly could hear us back in Los Angeles. “Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Again)” just about tore the house down!

The sense of connection between the band members with both each other and the crowd was absolutely joyous. The song also features a bassline that has become almost as synonymous with music as the guitar riff referred to as ‘the Bo Diddley beat’. This is still an incredible song that, like a lot of the band’s material, has well and truly stood the test of time. It also proves the fact that good songs will always remain vital and relevent in life, no matter from what period of time they initially came from.

This was a truly brilliant way to end what was a fantastic night.

– Neil Evans

Check out Tone Deaf’s review of Harvest: The Gathering and see live photographs of The Family Stone’s set there.