Funk uncut

The coolest trailer in town was parked on 21st Street Thursday night. Belonging to local hip-hop luminary Mr. P Chill and his band Trunk of Funk, the whitewashed vehicular appendage, with a bas-relief map of the lower 48 states affixed to each side, recalled U-Haul trailers of yore. It was a funky conveyance befitting Chill, who was playing a release party for his band’s new CD, Organic Hip Hop Vol. 2, a couple of doors down L Street at The Distillery.

Opening the gig was local favorite Crazy Ballhead, whose presence on the bill not only offered a look at two of this town’s better-known MCs, but also two of its finest live-funk ensembles. And the Distillery’s retro environs, a bright red, white and brown aesthetic collision between a circa-1968 steakhouse and some outer-borough goomba hangout from a Martin Scorsese flick, helped ignite the evening’s festivities. “Is it hot in here, or is it just me?” Ballhead asked the audience. Well, between the sudden incursion of Sacramento summer weather, the music and the color of the carpet, there was a bit of a heat on.

Ballhead’s band started playing around 10 p.m., at ear-bleeding volume. It took a few songs, though, for the players to synchronize with their frontman, who delivered his raps with a characteristic bull-like tenacity. But when the Southern-rock vibe of guitarist Jason Reed, the ethereal keyboard passages of Simon Rochester, and the drum-and-bass combination of Ben Cademarti and the curiously named H5 finally slipped into overdrive, they coalesced into a juggernaut closer to Clintonesque P-Funk than anything you’d expect to find in this River City.

Ballhead worked the crowd, which looked like a comic-book collision between Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks, with evangelistic fire. “Lemme see your B-boy stance,” he’d shout as guys in the audience stood there with arms folded, swaying to the beat. Then the band would slide into a wicked funk groove, with the audience chanting “snakes in the garden” or some other catchphrase. By the near-climax of Ballhead’s paean to local hip-hop, “The Valley Rumble,” the heat was building.

After an energetic set from ARG, or Another Rap Group, a trio that took turns toasting over some compelling textural beats, Trunk of Funk took the stage. Anchoring the rhythm section was H5, a bespectacled black woman in a quilted dress who is, in my opinion, one of the top three bass players in town—our very own Bootsy Collins, Bernard Edwards and James Jamerson rolled into one package.

The P Chill vibe was slightly less intense, though. H5’s bandmates included Diamond D on drums, OmegaZ on keys and DJ Double Ace on turntables, with the latter providing a wack Flavor Flav-style foil to P Chill’s more gravitas-oriented delivery. The band found its groove a couple of songs in and continued to gain momentum as it played. When the closing number, “Emcees”—which featured Chill, Ballhead, Big Ant and A.R.G. members Ospis, Aziaddict, and KomplexOne onstage—threatened to segue into an encore, promoter Jay Spooner literally had to stop the show to avoid an overtime penalty. A magic night, indeed.