Techno-funk-house band Zapp and frontman Roger Troutman exuberantly ushered in the Christmas holiday Friday might at the Roxy, the second of their three-night L.A. stand.
It was an evening full of surprises. On record, the Dayton, Ohio-based band’s sound is mechanized — Troutman’s vocals are embellished by a synthesizer-like talk box that makes him sound like a talking/singing Macintosh. The result is sometimes annoying, because it doesn’t allow for the nuances of the human voice.
However, possibly the biggest and most pleasant surprise is the fullness of Troutman’s musicality — it seems there is no musical style or instrument he can’t play. In addition to the traditional house-party music at which it excels, the band also offered classic blues, Spanish flamenco and a cover of guitarist George Benson’s “Breezin.”
Clad in a brilliant white suit, sequined turtleneck, loafers and dark glasses , the sublimely arrogant yet humorous Roger hit the ground running with “So Ruff , So Tuff,” which seemed to sum up how he and Zapp view themselves. It was fascinating to watch Troutman alternate between his technological and human voice without missing a beat.
In their best the Time-meets-Parliament/Funkadelic style, the band launched into “I Can Make You Dance,””Be Alright,””Heard It Through the Grapevine” and hits “More Bounce to the Ounce” and “Doo Wa Ditty (Blow That Thing).”
Because Roger is a hardcore party animal, during several numbers he walked throughout the house energetically playing searing guitar or harmonica to an audience that was on its feet.
It seemed natural for blues-influenced, soul-stylist Shirley Murdock to be the opener, especially since Troutman exec produced “Let There Be Love,” her third album for Elektra. Murdock is the kind of singer who would perform in small juke-joints and clubs off the beaten path. Her performance is up front and personal, and her emotional delivery of songs such as “In Your Eyes” and Aretha Franklin’s “Dr. Feelgood” caused her to ask the audience, “Are you goingto make me hurt myself?”
The highlight of Murdock’s set was her duet with Troutman on the sensuous “Slow and Easy.” As he crooned on his talk box and Murdock responded with her larger-than-life voice, they dueled and parried like two fighters in the ring.
The evening began with Def Jam comedian Jeff Arnold, whose comedy was, at best, topical and only marginally funny.