The Bamboos @ the Prince Bandroom, 14th of January, 2011

7 out of 10: An up-and-down night of historic funk.

The Bamboos are Melbourne’s own funk institution, and it’s a testament to the band that in a music scene more attuned to the rumble of power chords, the humble, scratchy slinkiness of a funky guitar’s ninth-chord rhythms can still garner an audience.

Tonight The Bamboos are celebrating ten years of funky good times by packing out the Prince Bandroom. As tradition demands, the show begins instrumentally. Resplendent in dapper suits, The Bamboos evoke the laid-back party groove of a New Orleans night spot and sound as if The Meters had dropped by Melbourne town.

The instrumental Bamboos are a subdued lot who prefer to lock into the groove meditatively, without commotion. Although Lance Ferguson is the band’s leader on guitar, he seems almost awkward being the foremost member of the band. So when Kylie Auldist, the band’s singer, enters the stage, eyes naturally shift to her effervescent exuberance.

It’s not, however, Auldist’s finest night. She’s a little too exuberant, perhaps even drunk, and at times she garbles words and misses notes. When she alludes to some tensions within the band after having mocked The Bamboos’ early days without her, Auldist rivals Parliament’s Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk in her ability to sap away the sweetness of the groove.

A second instrumental section brings out the band’s original drummer, Scott Lambie. He emerges on stage and installs his own snare drum as part of the kit. It’s an audacious statement, supremely self-confident, the kind of thing only seasoned professionals do who consider their instruments extensions of their own selves. And when Lambie begins with an elaborate drum pattern on snare and hi-hat that barely seems possible, we each bear witness to the funk in its purest form. The song is a vehicle for those drums, those exquisitely funky drums, and when the break comes, Lambie deftly, tastefully, expertly varies the original pattern before the crowd gives the funky drummer some.

Danny Farrugia, the band’s current drummer, is no shirk, though. His breaks are manic scattershots of Keith Moon mayhem, and in combination with the tasty James Jamerson stylings of bass player Yuri Pavlinov, The Bamboos rhythm section remains a treat.

The Bamboos are, however, caught in a curious catch-22. When playing instrumentally, their funk is a delight, but the lack of any stage presence harms how the performance is received. Yet when it’s time for the bubbly Auldist to sing and there is a focal point, the funk gets scaled back for the vocals, which unfortunately don’t make up for the loss of groove. An historic night, an entertaining night, but ultimately not the night of nights.

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