Cameo is very special to me among funk bands because for the most part, they defined what a funk band was for me in the 1980s. The other funk bands were around, but they were not quite at their commercial or artistic peaks at the time, and Michael Jackson and Prince were very funky, and they also had bands, but they were acclaimed mostly for their individual greatness. Cameo themselves used to be one of the large funk band with horns, but smartly reduced their lineup in the early ’80s to fit the streamlined image of the times. Their hit’s like “Candy” and “Word Up” just might be among the last hits of funk bands who started in the ’70s to do major damage on the pop and R&B charts.
Through the years I’ve caught bands at every oppurtunity, and some wear on better than others, very few had all original members, and many also got quite far away from the image a funk fan would pay to see as well. I remember when the cotton leisure suit seemed to be the standard uniform of all surviving bands. Cameo however, was an exception during this period, since the band had long since reduced itself to Larry Blackmon, Tomi Jenkins, Nathan Leftenant, Aaron Mills, and combinations of other sidemen who were excellent, such as Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Mofatt, a super talented New Orleans born drummer for The Jacksons and Michael Jackson’s personal drummer. They didn’t have the problems that other funk groups had, for instance, the dueling Ohio Players groups, or editions of Slave minus Drac, or Mr. Mark, or Steve Arrington. Cameo was always CAMEO, and you were sure to get a tight, well played set of their biggest hits. Not to mention Larry Blackmon was sure to wear his red codpiece, for those of you who’re into that. Cameo was a group that came out in the mid to late ’70s, so it’s members were a good deal younger than many other funk groups as well, all of which made them one of the safest tickets in modern funk.
So a couple of weeks ago, I was amped up to begin the lead in to my birthday with a show by Cameo at the Jack London Square Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland.
This was to be my first time seeing Cameo outside of large package tours with other groups, and they were coming on, as artists do at Yoshi’s, with no opening act, playing two sets a night. I’d heard when they played gigs at the old Kimball’s East in Emeryville, CA, they got deep into their catalog, playing the funk classics such as, “Ugly Ego”, “Be Yourself”, “Shake Your Pants”, and my favorite, from 1979’s “Secret Omen”, “I Just Want to Be.”
The group had already played that Wednesday at a special Halloween show attended by many of my friends. My homie DJ Spooky, Willie Adams handled the pre show musical duties, and a good deal of my friends showed up in costume, including my buddy Ron who stole the night in a dynamite Rick James costume. I didn’t make that show, but I rolled up to Yoshi’s to check out the next day of their Bay Area engagement on Saturday in the Town.
Cameo took the stage in their timely, no b.s, all funky business fashion and did not disappoint. They opened with the title track of their 1980 album, the anthemic, “Cameosis”, one of my favorite Cameo cuts. Being a song that bears the groups name, it’s an excellent intro as well. They played a truncated version of it on that night, but it got the Cameo fans going. On stage at this point were Tomi Jenkins on vocals, with Cameo vetrans holding down the guitar spots, Charlie Singleton, with his mask and cape, the vocalist on 1982’s “Be Yourself”, and Anthony Lockett, an original member who handled lead vocals on the classic Cameo ballad, “Sparkle.” Also on deck was one of my favorite bass players, Cameo’s long standing bassist Aaron Mills, who also played some great bassline’s behind Outkast in the ’00s, including the smash “Ms.Jackson.”
“Cameosis” was one I hadn’t had the privilege of hearing Cameo perform before. From that festive, funky introduction, they went into some of the hits that the crowd expected, and they didn’t disappoint. Larry Blackmon entered the stage, red codpiece glistening, to take us on a tour of Cameo’s mid ’80s peak. The band hit us back to back with three ’80s classics, “She’s Strange”, “Single Life”, and “Attack Me With Your Love.” All three were very well recieved by the audeince, and I found myself singing them word for word as well. “Single Life” was very special because they found time for a monster drum solo, which even caused me to say to myself, “Dang…dude is coming with a little bit EXTRA on that funk.” Of course, they introduced their drummer Dante as being from Oakland a little while later.
Anthony Lockett, original Cameo member, got a chance to step forward and shine on “Sparkle” from 1979’s “Secret Omen”, and it acted as a sonic viagra to the couples in the audience, or the soon to be. To demonstrate how tight and action packed a set at Yoshi’s can be, they moved right into the sweet funk of “Candy”. “Candy” is a fresh, funky, sweet song that has become even more and more of an anthem as the years have passed on. It was huge when it was out, featuring a very unique music video, but it’s become truly, one of the defining songs of it’s time in the years since that, with thanks to the 1999 film “The Best Man” for using it in it’s famous electric slide line sequence.
The band next went into a package of pure, uncut, wicked funk, starting with my favorite, 1979’s “I Just Want to Be.” “I Just Want to Be” is a one of a kind funky record, tense, tight, with a nasty bass line, cutting guitars, and freaky high pitched vocals. Of course, it gave me a chance to give my shoes a good breaking in. They followed with the funk classic “Flirt”. Larry spoke to the audience about the song that became their first gold record, which they had to insert back into the show, a little funk ditty called, “Shake Your Pants”, which got the Bay Area crowd up and doing just that.
The guys finished the show with the classic, funk in the face of the hip hop era, “Word Up.” I got down with them for a while, before I had to rush accross the bridge to the next party. I definitely enjoyed Cameo, their funk was sharp and proffesional, and they had the unenviable task of culling a set list from 35 years of hits. The one thing I’d like to hear the next time I see Cameo however, is a few more of the early funk hits. A little bit of “It’s Serious”, “Ugly Ego”, “Still Feels Good to Me”, “Rigor Mortis”, or “Enjoy Your Life”, would be right up my funky alley. However, I can still recommend Cameo with no reservations, as one of the funkiest groups from the old Kingdom still funkin’.
For Those Who don’t believe this review:
2. She’s Strange
3. Single Life
4. Attack Me With Your Love
5. Why Have I Lost You?
6. You’re a Winner
9. I Just Want to Be
9. Keep it Hot
11. Shake Your Pants
12. Word Up