Last week, on the eve of my birthday, I decided to stay up late on a weekday, knowing that I’d have to wake up by 6am the next day to go to work. Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band was in town though for their first show ever in Buffalo and I wasn’t going to miss it. Even with the exhaustive circumstances, what transpired that night invigorated me in a way not every concert does. Waking up the following morning, I felt alive, beaming with excitement, and still humming the notes from the night prior. I can only speak for myself, but throughout life, I am constantly chasing that kind of high from music, but was certainly not expecting it to this degree when I walked in to Nietzsche’s the night before.
As I approached the building, I still wasn’t sure what to expect. There is no adjacent parking lot, so you can’t tell if the venue is packed or empty for any show. Crossing the threshold, it was as though the doors had just opened even though I was unfortunately late to arrive. My disappointment in Buffalo for not showing up on a night like tonight – where a band was making their first appearance here – started the night off on the wrong note. Regardless of the crowd situation, on this particular Thursday, Nietzsche’s was the place to be as Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band was ready to share their gritty funk with whoever showed up.
Changing their opening song on the fly, the band kicked things off with a new song in “Wake Yo’self”. This song will be featured on their upcoming album, so the only way to catch this one at the moment is live. The bass line throughout the song had a relentless determination to it that gave the crowd a reason to move right from its opening notes. As it propelled forward through thick and heavy waters, trombonist Derrick Lee Johnson and keyboardist Mary Frances, aka Mama Funk, highlighted his spaces with peaks of cutting tone. There might not have been the greatest turnout for their first show, but the band was determined to have a good time and make sure everyone else did too. Talking with the band after the show, I brought up how bassist Al Al Ingram’s tone is similar to the bass tone on Cake’s “The Distance”, but in a heavier and funky way. The band collectively laughed in agreement and shared how they actually had talked about covering that song on numerous occasions. The show was off to a great start and with a lot of people in attendance unfamiliar with the bands songs, this was the perfect choice as it immediately grabbed everyone’s attention.
The band continued to light up the crowd with one heavy-hitting song after another. I’ve always felt that a smaller crowd can affect how a band plays in a negative way, but not these guys. On several occasions throughout the show, various members stepped off the stage and came right out into the crowd to dance. Mama Funk, Derrick Lee Johnson, and Al Al Ingram all took turns playing their instruments amongst the dancers in attendance and it really helped elevate the crowd’s overall response. Mama Funk specifically blew me away as her sweet and unassuming look was only a disguise. Throughout the night, she displayed her prowess on the keyboards as she supported the band through her various tones, ripped through solos, and constantly exuded a fun and free spirit that came out through her playful approach. It was all about a good time with her and the band as a whole and there was no shortage of those moments on this particular Thursday night.
The Booty Band played a variety of music from their catalog, but two covers stood out as I had never heard a band cover a hip hop song before in person. The band chose two Dr. Dre songs in “Let Me Ride” and “Nuttin’ Butt a G-Strang” – the latter being an obvious play on the famous “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”. Both of these songs were instantly recognized by the crowd and hit me about as hard as the originals did when I first heard them. The songs had such a beautiful, funky flow to them, similar to the original, but felt right being instrumentalized. Adding layers of live and spacey keyboard runs made two already fine choices that much better. The funky rides down memory lane were complete with rap battles between Johnson and Ingram and choruses colored by Mama Funk. By sharing the vocal responsibilities on these two and others over the course of the night, the self-proclaimed “Mountain Gangstas from North Carolina” were able to flex to the style they were playing and showcase the voice that made the most sense.
The Booty Band’s spirit was just contagious. As they wrapped up their set, the crowd was simply not ready to let them go. After some clamouring, the band returned with grins all over their faces, ready to keep the night going a little longer for the outpouring of appreciation. One person from the crowd yelled, “hey, we all have to work tomorrow, just play one more song.” It was clear that those in attendance didn’t care that it was already past 1am at this point and I couldn’t have agreed more; we all just wanted a little more before they packed up and left. The band obliged with two songs to close the night that featured some heavy grooves and some deep funky ruts. Drummer Lee Allen was blatantly abusive towards his drum kit during the finale, making sure that his talented band mates wouldn’t completely overshadow his own impressive skills; everyone in the crowd already knew this though as Allen drove the rhythm the entire night. This band is loaded with talent from the front of the stage to the back, and if you haven’t taken the time to listen to them or catch them live, you need to drop what you’re doing now and make some time.
On a final note, I have to take a second to outline the band’s genuine appreciation for their fans and that they get to wake up and play music everyday. I talked to both Derrick Lee Johnson and Mary Frances after the show, separately, and I thought it was interesting how they echoed similar sentiments when I asked them for their thoughts on the turnout. Mary Frances said, “”It doesn’t matter if there’s 20 people or a packed house, everyone deserves a good show”. While Derrick Lee Johnson said, “I get to do my passion every single night. Whether it’s 10 people or 10,000 people, I get to pick up my trombone every night and play.” Hearing this from two different members in an off-the-cuff conversation was a breath of fresh air. There’s so many acts nowadays that play for the money and fame and those are the same bands you hear have broken up because money and fame don’t happen overnight. After hearing this, I thanked both of them for having that love and passion for their craft and that definitely translated as they genuinely had fun on stage and you could tell that they enjoyed the night just as much as everyone that was in attendance. The money and fame will come to them in time, so long as they keep doing what they’re doing, people are bound to catch on. I know that next time they come around, everyone in Buffalo will be bringing a friend as they easily won over those who came to dance on a late Thursday night/early Friday morning. As for work the next day, I got by and I am indebted to these guys for kicking off my birthday in the best way possible – with an incredible, booty shaking display of live music!
Setlist: Wake Yo’self, @$$, Quick E, Funk Life, Let Me Ride*, Cancion de Fuego, Mama Feel Good, Sunday Afternoon, Sanchez, Shadows -n- Sunshine, Nuttin’ Butt a G-Strang (Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang)*, 24/7, Naw Brah, Flea Bite, Trunk, Livin’ the Dream
* Dr. Dre cover
Photos by Cathy Bechle.