Concert Review: War Remains an Exemplar of Musical, Cultural and Racial Unity

photos and text by Matt Bauer

pictured Lonnie Jordan the last surviving member of the group WAR.

Hang on baby brother/Oh, they call it law and order.”  lyrics from War’s 1973 song “Me and Baby Brother”

It’s been nearly a half century since War committed  that song to wax, yet in the era of George Floyd and too many others resting in power way before their time, it remains a pertinent and stinging indictment of police brutality. 

In fact, in this battered and fractured world (which is still a ghetto for too many) War’s vigorous fusion of funk, R&B, Latin, reggae and rock which transformed racial and cultural boundaries with its multi-racial line-up seems needed now more than ever. And while keyboardist/lead vocalist Lonnie Jordan  is the only remaining member, the current aggregate of musicians touring and recording under the War banner proved a potent musical force at Seneca Niagara’s Bears Den, this past Friday.

The two hour set opened with the aforementioned “Me and Baby Brother”  followed by two of the band’s undisputed signatures :  “The Cisco Kid” and  “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” which  were performed with  a funky  aplomb that got the crowd chanting along with their infectious choruses.

Along with expected classics like the psychedelic  “Spill The Wine,“  the Latin funk drive of “Ballero” (which showcased the superb percussion skills of Marcos Reyes)  and the balmy summer-soul groover “All Day Music,” there were some welcome deep cuts for the War faithful including  “You Got The Power” and this writer’s favorite War slow jam “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (both from 1982’s underrated “Outlaw” album).

Drummer Sal Rodriguez capably handled lead vocals on the heart rending ballad “So” while Jordan (who turns 73 on November 21) delivered a tasteful and passionate vocal rendering of “Deliver The Word, ” before the charming reggae tinged plea of “Why Can’t We Be Friends” (with each of the seven members taking turns on vocals) and the now iconic “Low Rider” appeared to close out the show. 

But there was more. The encore started with a dedication to recently deceased original War bassist B.B. Dickerson before “The World Is a Ghetto,”  which endures as one of the most haunting and poignant narratives  of socially conscious soul. The politically charged “Get Down” (from the band’s 1971 breakthrough “All Day Music”)  was the most intense number of the concert with tight interplay among each member  and a searing guitar solo courtesy of Buffalo’s own Stuart Ziff  before a lively  “Gypsy Man” took the crowd home.

Through  50 years of line up changes, deaths and shifting musical and social climates, War remains an exemplar of musical, cultural and racial unity.