You Go, Girls

Well into the Sun City Girls‘ sold-out Saturday-night performance at the Knitting Factory, a woman yelled, “Play something that makes sense!” Perhaps she should have just left after the taut minimalist electro-funk of openers Out Hud, because she certainly wasn’t with SCG’s sprawling brand of anarchy. The three Girls, Richard Bishop (guitar and piano), Alan Bishop (bass and guitar), and Charles Gocher (drums), have spent 20 years creating willfully obscure music released on willfully obscure labels. They’ve never made any sense, conventionally speaking, and that’s what makes them them.

The performance, which ran (sometimes smoothly, sometimes not so smoothly) from rock to punk to world to country to jazz to improvised noise freak-outs, proved that SCG still live in their own musical universe—where transcendence is fun, but trying things that don’t work has its own merits. Relatively straight versions of Burt Bacharach’s “The Look of Love” and Love’s “Alone Again or” mixed it up with Sun City favorites like “Cooking With Satan” and the cathartic power rant “Dreamland.” For a spoken-word version of the Fugs’ “CIA Man,” Bishop asked for a “poet” to help read lyrics. With three takers and crowd participation, the reading evolved into a twisted game show—one “actual poet” was so appalled that she couldn’t get the words out.

In short, it was your typical SCG fare—a free-ranging performance with a complete disregard for taste, convention, or planning. The merry pranksters delivered it all after a 10-year absence from New York. And as a bonus, the audience left knowing that they could go back Sunday night for another helping, one where Bishop promised the Girls would play all the requests yelled out during Saturday night’s show. —Tad Hendrickson

Friendship Train

After decades of palpable invisibility, the Funk Brothers were on cloud nine as they took to the stage with their better-known partners in hit-making, playing to a jam-packed audience at the Apollo Theater last week. “We waited 30 years for this,” said guitarist Eddie Willis, as the crowd cheered. After Mary Wilson from the Supremes sauntered onstage and belted out a heartfelt “Stop in the Name of Love,” she sighed: “The Funk Brothers are responsible for my life.”

The show was performed in conjunction with the release of Standing in the Shadows of Motown, the documentary about these legendary players condemned to feeling they were on the outside of the era looking in. The surviving members of the Funk Brothers present, Bob Babbitt, Johnny Griffith, Joe Hunter, Joe Messina, Uriel Jones, Eddie “Chank” Willis, and Jack “Black Jack” Ashford, turned history on its head as they each indulged in smooth, evergreen solos at center stage before an adoring audience. The reunion also marked the last time they will play together in this configuration, as they lost keyboard player Griffith, age 66, three days later to heart failure.

Guest vocalists mixed joy and solemnity. Ashford & Simpson goofily bopped around the stage for a smiley “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” while Meshell Ndégeocello sang a rich and sober “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and “Cloud Nine.” Angie Stone, Marshall Crenshaw, and Ben Harper poured out more of the six dozen classics the Funk Brothers recorded. New divas and dons sang with their older Brothers. Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child let out a young but confident “Ooh Baby, Baby.” Mario and Musiq tentatively took a turn too, Mario singing a shy “I Was Made to Love Her,” and Musiq following with “What’s Going On?” and a much more spirited “Shot Gun.” “I admit I’m nervous here,” said Musiq to the crowd. The aging hit-makers in their midst just grinned. —Rebecca Segall

Sweet on U

Tulip Sweet, wearing a hat made of hydrangeas, dangles a dirty toy mouse over her forehead by the tail, singing to it at top volume, “I-I-I who have nothing/Love U-U-U!” Overcome with emotion, the mouse drops onto her forehead, and from there to the floor. Pedro’s Bar and Restaurant, a Mexican place the size of a subway car, is crammed with happy commuters to the demented yet sparkly land of Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears. Even the quesadilla-making guys behind the counter are nodding their heads in time. Like a dotty grandma crocheting Christmas ornaments out of plastic bags, Minneapolis natives Steph Dickson and Tom Siler take three of the most potentially awful pop genres—loungey cabaret, vampy psychedelia, ironically twee college music—and mine dark, cathartic sonic gold. What’s their secret? They’re serious. As Tom (the Trail)’s versatile keyboard floats through a medley of maddeningly familiar pop themes (“Imagine”? “Chim Chim Cheree”?), Tulip sells her creations as hard as her smallish voice will allow. She combines the composure and self-absorption of a fantasist eight-year-old girl, marching high steps in time with her huge drumsticks, and the dead-eyed heartbreak of a 65-year-old alcoholic croaking “White Christmas” to an indifferent hotel bar. “I like to make a scene out of my pain,” she tells the Voice between sets. “It turns it into energy.” Whether she’s crooning to her post-apocalyptic cockroach lover (“Good morning boyfriend/There’s no tomorrow/Here’s to coffee and you crawling on my toast”) or banging her tambourine on a drum and declaiming the poundingly obsessive “I Live 4 the U That Lives in My Mind,” Tulip’s sheer commitment surpasses the merely clever, antic, or catchy material and goes straight for the gut. I heart Tulip Sweet. And soon you will too. —Anya Kamenetz