Much like a football team that needed a second-half rally to win a game, famed saxman Maceo Parker and his crack band used their second set Sunday night to uplift what had been a rather trite, uninspiring show before an uplifting performance that restored faith in funk for a sold-out State Room audience Sunday night.
Relying more heavily on traditional song structures during the hour-long second set, the band featured fewer grooves and one-line repeated phrases, which served as most of the material during the hour-long first set. The lone highlights of the first set was the continually impressive playing of the musicians in Parker's band, especially bassist Rodney "Skeet" Curtis who provided lilting, dirty funky lines that underpinned the show's pulsating grooves. If a better bass player performs in SLC during 2012, I'd love to see it.
And with top-flight playing still in tow, the overall situation improved markedly during the second set following an inspired take on The Meters' "Hey Pocky Way," - especially a bit later when backup singer Martha High took her only lead vocal of the night during "Think (About It)." This refreshing move into singing songs with verses - not just repeated one-line chants and interminable grooves was followed shortly by Parker's soul-stirring vocal tribute to Ray Charles as he sang the late soulman's classic "You Don't Know Me", with just keyboardist Will Boulware's smoky organ lines as accompaniment. That Parker did so while wearing thick sunglasses and after walking to the mike as a blind man might was a bit off-key, but didn't detract from the rendition.
As good a soloist as Parker is, he often shined the most providing rhythm horn parts to various grooves such as on "Doin' It To Death" and the killer take on "Papa Don't Take No Mess" by his former boss, James Brown. Many members of the mixed-age crowd appeared far too young to see Brown, but at 68, Parker does a fine job of replicating intense funk and offers an indirect tribute to the late "Godfather of Soul" by saying "Good God" frequently during songs.
An added bonus to Sunday's show - the first in 2012 at The State Room - the venue has remodeled its upstairs a bit and now has more room for standing patrons and a much roomier bar upstairs. The Parker crowd took full advantage of the added access to libations and with Parker's help saw the year off to a funky start.