You, as a resident of Dallas, should know the story of the Relatives by now. For anyone that doesn't, a quick refresher -- formed in the 1970s and dissolved in 1980, the Relatives, led by the Reverend Gean West, left little evidence of a mesh of gospel and funk that never caught on despite the favorable prevailing winds of the time. Reformed in 2009 after an Austin record producer found a rare pressing in a record store and tracked them down to Dallas, The Relatives have produced a record of genuine quality in the newly-issued The Electric Word. This concert at the Kessler, ridiculously, was the release party for their debut album, 43 years on from their formation.
First, however, there was a set from relative whippersnapper Bobby Patterson, newly turned 69 and in no mood to slow down. A more straightforwardly funky performance, Patterson uttered the coolest grandpa quote in history when he claimed that not only was he rapping before there was a thing called rap, but back then they called it "talking in time". He then fired off a few lines to demonstrate his prowess, and, well, I'd pay to hear a Bobby Patterson rap single. He got a child up on stage to dance with, he played a guitar solo with his teeth, he talked mainly in rhymes between songs, and boy was he a snappy dresser. While Mr. Patterson was a table-setter for the big event, he was a very good one.
The Relatives' performance, as I'm sure you can imagine, quickly became one of those can't miss Dallas events. They bring the same power, reverence and purpose to the stage as I have no doubt they bring to the pulpit, only with the sharpest matching white suits in the business. Concerts like this, as the somewhat older than average Dallas audience suggested, are the closest you and I are going to get to seeing a soul survivor with a voice of power and emotion like a James Brown or a Marvin Gaye in this day and age. This, I imagine, is much like how all those concerts in the 1970s that you really, really wish you were alive to see felt. I defy you not to dance at a Relatives gig. Even a clearly moneyed man in his '80s in front of me responded to a request for hands in the air by gingerly raising a hand.
Of course, that only makes him a few years older than our irrepressible and tireless ringleaders for the evening, five strong with a backing band and restrained, borderline hilarious synchronized dancing that makes N*Sync look like total shit. Another way The Relatives make N*Sync look like total shit (and there are many) is that they can sing. Boy howdy can they sing. Pitch-perfect, the gospel harmonies that I cannot find a non-clichéd way to describe were absolutely spellbinding live. They are putting all of themselves into this performance, and it shows. It's one of those close-your-eyes and listen gigs, the sort that will put the hairs on the back of your neck on end when you remember moments like "Speak To Me (What's Wrong With America)" or "Your Love Is Real" for the next few months.
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As well as individual moments of stunning beauty like that, there are times where the funk is so irrepressible that it threatens to turn the entire hall into a geriatric dance party, costing insurance policies everywhere dozens of hips in the process. Borrowing heavily from a Parliament/Funkadelic back catalog which, outside of its common use in hip hop, remains relatively unexplored in other modern genres, presumably newer songs (those absent from the 2009 re-issue of available Relatives recordings) like "Let Your Light Shine" were blasted out by the unfeasibly tight backing band and caused a child of about eight years old in front of me to flail his arms in a way that suggested it would not be long before drinks and seniors went flying. Subsequently, "It's Coming Up Again" saw the good Reverend directly channel the spirit of James Brown with the sheer power of his voice and the funky rhythm and blues.
The audience had been driven to frenzy by the end of the concert, constantly responding to requests to dance and get down and to basslines that just wouldn't quit. The whole Kessler was a sweaty mess, people were making out everywhere, and the audience had abandoned their chairs and standing positions to shake their thing. It was like Woodstock probably was, only better because of the lack of mud and hippies. A capella gospel number "Trouble In My Way" rounded the evening off with a take-home reminder of the sheer power of The Relatives' voices to move emotionally. There were, however, too few of the younger generation there. Let's take this band for our own, because their live shows and their new album are such delightful breaths of fresh air into the current scene that they deserve, no, they demand, wider recognition. You can't choose your family, but you should definitely choose The Relatives.