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A Sly move or two

The funk 'n' roll icon shows up for a few minutes during the set by the Family Stone. The second coming? Maybe next time.

January 15, 2007|Rich Kane | Special to The Times

He actually showed up.

These days, that's the most you can hope for from reclusive funk 'n' roll icon Sly Stone, of whom sightings are so rare that he could be branded the Sasquatch of rock -- you're not entirely sure he exists until you spot him with your own eyes.

Yet there he was Saturday at the House of Blues Anaheim, even if it was for all of nine minutes stuffed in the middle of a two-hour set from a rechristened (with Sly's blessing) Family Stone Band. It'd be nice to think that those nine minutes -- coupled with his bizarre cameo at last year's Grammys -- might point toward a more lasting re-emergence after years of creative hibernation. But as with all things on Planet Sly, you never really know.

You weren't even totally sure Sly would make it to the gig, even though the media had been assured he would. After an hour of the 10-piece Family Stone playing, as the ticket promised, "all the hits" (respectable run-throughs of "Dance to the Music," "Everyday People," "Stand!," "Family Affair" and the rest of the Sly canon), and after such maddeningly time-sucking cliches as extended band member intros and at least one eye-rolling tambourine solo from the band's de facto leader, Vet Stone (Sly's little sister), the man himself stepped stiffly onstage, adorned in a glittery black cape that seemed to swallow him whole, plus a red scarf, skate shoes (can Sly grind on a vert ramp?), sunglasses and that now-familiar blond mohawk he unveiled at the Grammys. The not-quite-sold-out crowd went respectfully batty, thrilled to be in the ultra-rare presence of someone who crafted such an influential catalog of timeless tunes.

But what did Sly actually do once he showed his 62-year-old self? Not much. With the Family Stone behind him playing a slowed-up take on "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," he immediately turned the stage over to his daughter, who stepped behind a keyboard and plinked out some Mozart. Sly then took his place in the same spot, put his fingers to the keys, made some simple doot-doot-doot sounds, sang a few choruses, shimmied a little, hung out for a bit by the side of the stage, then left. He returned later during "I Want to Take You Higher," where he croaked "Higher!" a couple of times, then waved goodbye, done for the night.

Yeah, it was weird. There were no new songs, although Sly has supposedly been working on some. And as for this version of the Family Stone, which features the band's original trumpeter-singer Cynthia Robinson (there was also a guest appearance Saturday by late-era Family Stone sax player Pat Rizzo), it's basically a very good tribute band -- one that happens to be endorsed by the guy who created most of the set list.

That he was in the area Saturday and decided to swing by didn't hurt -- in myriad ways, the evening was a lot like watching Wild Child, L.A.'s ubiquitous Doors tribute band, if suddenly, somehow, Jim Morrison were to step up to the mike.

For Sly (this was only his second live performance -- if you could call it that -- since 1987), it certainly wasn't a glorious return to form by any means, but with the Family Stone behind him, it also wasn't a total train wreck either. He was on the House of Blues stage about three times as long as he was on the Grammy stage, so next time, maybe he'll find the strength to work up to a whopping 20 minutes. That is, if there's a next time.

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