Playing a slick rock club in the middle of a Long Beach mall is as far as you can get from the inner-city venues in Washington, where Trouble Funk earned its reputation. But the leaders of the D.C.-based go-go music scene's two-hour set before a relatively sparse 200 people at Bogart's on Monday was a funkathon that left a trail of sweaty bodies and smiling faces in its wake.
Trouble Funk's modus operandi is simple, chanted catch phrases laid over choppy horn riffs, grooves rooted in early '70s funk and the all-encompassing dance beat laid down by drummer Alonzo Robinson and percussionists Timothy (T-Bone) David and Dennis Sterling. Gil Scott-Heron's reflection on overcoming the language barrier at a French festival--"Everybody spoke drum so everybody got the message"--succinctly evokes the group's underlying philosophy.
The 10-man unit adhered too faithfully to that slave-to-the-beat principle early in its performance. Both the frequent percussion breaks and audience participation routines led by guitarist Robert Reed and beefy bassman Tony Fisher threatened to disrupt the set's momentum as much as encourage the desired party atmosphere.
But after about an hour, that insistent, omnipresent monster beat just sank in and Trouble Funk became nearly impossible to resist. The subtle, interest-sustaining tricks in the group's arrangements--the constantly shifting keyboard textures and guitar riffs, sudden cuts to spotlight the drummers or three-man horn section--were also thrown into sharp relief.