Concert review: Galactic (with Latyrx) gives Valentine’s Day a funky New Orleans kiss at the Pageant, Thursday, February 14

Corey Glover of Galactic at the Pageant. Photo by Amy Burger.

Valentine’s Day may be the day of love and romance, but for those in attendance at the Pageant on Thursday, it was a night to get funky, with or without a partner.

New Orleans’ own funk/jazz fusion jam band Galactic heated up the night with a no-holds-barred, two-hour set that started out high energy and never waned for a moment.

Before they took the stage, however, alternative hip-hop masters Latyrx got everyone’s hearts thumping with the dynamic, rapid-fire deliveries of Lateef the Truth Speaker (Lateef Daumont) and Lyrics Born (Tsutomu “Tom” Shimura), veterans of the San Francisco Bay-Area hip-hop scene. The duo bounced lyrics off each other in perfect sync, backed by a live drummer and DJ Shadow on the “wheels of steel,” old school scratching from dual turntables. They featured material from their new album, “Disconnection,” including “Gorgeous Spirits (Aye, Let’s Go!)” as well as a few songs from Lyrics Born’s previous solo efforts, including politically charged “The Last Trumpet.”

The crowd was somewhat sparse and hesitant at the beginning of their 45-minute set, but by the end of it, the main floor of the Pageant began to fill in nicely and the audience was getting into it, pumping fists in the air and calling out lyrics on cue.

Then it was time for the real magic to happen. Galactic took the stage around 9:30 p.m., leading off with an instrumental jam highlighting solos of each member, proving immediately that this group is a true collaboration, each bringing an unmistakable element to its sound. Over the years, the core quintet of guitarist Jeff Raines, bassist Robert Mercurio, drummer Stanton Moore, keyboardist/Hammond organist Richard Vogel and saxophone/harmonica player Ben Ellman have been joined by a rotating series of guest vocalists and musicians. The current lineup is sweetened by the addition of two Coreys — standout trombone player Corey Henry (of the Rebirth Brass Band) and legendary rock vocalist Corey Glover (of Living Colour).

Along with its rotating musicians, the band’s sound has evolved over the years to go beyond classic New Orleans funk and embrace other musical elements from hip-hop to jazz and even more recently, electronica. But funk is clearly the core, and there was plenty of it at Thursday night’s show. Unlike many bands that would place them more in the background, the horns take center stage at a Galactic show, and Ellman and Henry have perfect chemistry, eagerly sharing their deserved place in the spotlight.

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‘It all starts with a groove’ An interview with Charles Walker and Bill Elder of the Dynamites

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International and inter-generational, Nashville band the Dynamites, featuring veteran singer Charles Walker, delivers funk and soul originals with a bang.

Frontman Charles Walker began his singing career in Nashville in the late ’50s. The following decade, he moved to New York City and opened for soul and R&B giants including James Brown, Etta James and Jackie Wilson. Walker performed solo and also led several bands including Little Charles & the Sidewinders, a group that, despite its star quality, received little attention compared to its contemporaries.

After returning to his hometown and performing for the Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit “Night Train To Nashville,” Walker caught the ear of songwriter Bill Elder. Together they formed the Dynamites, a modern band exploring new avenues of funk and soul in front of fans across the globe. On September 20, the group will perform in St. Louis as part of KDHX’s Thursdays at the Intersection in Grand Center.

I had the pleasure of chatting with both Walker and Elder before their return to St. Louis.

Francisco Fisher: You took a hiatus from music in the ’80s and into the ’90s. Then you found out people in England were listening to the Sidewinders, and you performed there. What was that like?

Charles Walker: I was really on the verge of pulling in and giving it up…. So, when I heard about the Sidewinders’ stuff being played a lot, and Southern soul a lot too, it gave me another kind of inspiration to get back into the music again. It was quite a good feeling, I guess, just being back in it.

What were some of your other inspirations to get back into music? I read that you heard about Sharon Jones and others who were becoming popular for playing a similar kind of music.

It’s true, I heard of them. A lot of the black people like Sharon Jones and a few other groups that were doing some of the old soul stuff, funk and soul. So I decided, well, that’s what I’ve come up on, so I need to get my step back into it, too. And that’s what happened. It took me a minute or two, but it happened.

How does your experience with the Dynamites compare to your previous experience with the Sidewinders?

The Dynamites is the same kind of thing. The Sidewinders was mostly just a sped-up soul band. The Dynamites is more of a funk-and-soul band, and actually, [Bill Elder's] idea was to do the deep funk. So I saw the work come out of that, and we got [the Dynamites] just doing mostly soul now, because that’s really what’s happening. Soul music is really coming back. I don’t know if it’s going to be a main genre, but you can hear it in all kinds of music now.

Can you tell me about the new album?

We just finished it about a month ago, and it’s going to be released in Europe first. The songs are a little bit more to what I do than “Burn It Down” and “”Kaboom!”.” “”Kaboom!”" was more like me kind of fitting in and trying to work it out with that funk thing. But this new album is more of a soul album.

Is this more of a collaboration than before?

Yeah, mainly the collaboration thing is that Bill wrote almost all the songs. I wrote one song on that album and we’re doing one of the Sidewinders’ songs.

Which one?

“Please Open The Door”…. We recut it and it’s more like a stage version. I do it onstage with the Dynamites anyhow. As a matter of fact, we do quite a lot of the Sidewinders’ songs in our show.

Would you like to do a live album with the Dynamites?

Yeah, I would. You can generate a whole different thing as a live performance than four walls and a booth somewhere. The live thing is definitely a lot more inspirational. You can do a lot of things. Our show with the Dynamites is put together in that way that it could be recorded live because our stuff is put together pretty well.

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Concert review: Exter vs. Kimock (with 3 Kings) leaves Pop’s Blue Moon reeling, Friday, July 27

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The night began with local act 3 Kings taking a trip through the land of funk and blues with a few surprise stops along the journey.

Although technically 3 Kings could be tagged as a cover band, there were no real note-for-note covers. Their set at Pop’s Blue Moon was full of interpretations of the source material, easily recognizable but not soulless recreations.

The few songs that were mostly note-for-note still had some attention-grabbing, unexpected twists like the effect-laden bass solo during the Meters’ classic “Cissy Strut” or the “that isn’t Billy Gibbons but it fits” stripped-down guitar solo during their version of ZZ Top’s “Cheap Sunglasses.” I especially enjoyed their vocal harmonizing during “People Say” and a fantastic reworking of the Lennon/McCartney track “Don’t Let Me Down.”

About halfway through the set the guys snuck in part of an original piece that they have been working on. If that snippet shows the path they are taking, they’d better get some Speed Stick now because the real deal is going to be funkier than an armpit after gym class.

Shortly after 3 Kings departed the stage, Trevor Exter and John Kimock, also known as Read more

Concert review: AJ & the Jiggawatts electrify Lola, Friday, July 20

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Only a bolt of lightning could have generated the energy brought by Nashville’s AJ & the Jiggawatts.

The strutting, hip-shaking antics and powerful sounds of front man AJ Eason, along with his fellow G.E.D. Soul Records cohorts, struck downtown St. Louis at around 10:40 p.m. Friday night, sending a shock through the crowd that had everyone’s flux capacitors in full swing.

Andrew Muller delivered chunky guitar licks with Tim Hawkins on bass, D. Singleton on drums and Pablo Ahogado on keys. The G.E.D. website refers to the group, which is the Nashville label’s most recent project, as “rock ‘n’ soul,” and the ensemble has the upbeat riffs to cover both bases.

Members of AJ & the Jiggawatts shuffle among other G.E.D. acts including Sky Hi, Magic in Threes, the Coolin’ System and DeRobert & the Half-Truths — all cohesive groups with diverse catalogues. With chops developed in one band or another, it’s no surprise that whenever these guys get together, an audience ends up on its feet.

Singer AJ Eason, who was born and raised in Memphis, said he was glad to be is St. Louis. “St. Louis is like Memphis with more lotion,” he quipped. Not once did the muscular, tattooed vocalist take off his sunglasses throughout the set filled with heavy-hitting jams including “Don’t Mess With Me,” “Pimp Decisions,” and an ode to booze, “Brown Bottle Fever.” He did take a break from the microphone to pick up a tambourine and also to sit at a pair of congas for a couple of songs including the encore. And of course there were those Nelly lyrics that he worked into the set as if it were part of the band’s normal routine.

Horn players can be heard on some of AJ & the Jiggawatts’ recordings, but there were no brass or reeds on the stage Friday night. This absence wasn’t a problem, however, as the grittier, stripped-down sound of the Jiggawatts along with AJ’s heavily-reverbed vocals are what make them stand apart from the other acts on the G.E.D. label. And they might even sound better live than they do on record — which is to say they sound amazing.

Funky jams played all throughout the night as DJ Hal Greens, who organized the event, led into AJ & the Jiggawatts’ performance and DJ Needles of 88.1 KDHX’s “Rawthentic” followed. Fans at Lola were granted a night of incredible soul music, and they didn’t even need a time machine to get there.

Concert review: The Victor Wooten Band delivers virtuoso set at the Old Rock House, Thursday, July 5

Krystal Peterson and Victor Wooten at the Old Rock House in St. Louis. July 5, 2012.

Krystal Peterson and Victor Wooten at the Old Rock House. Photo by Wil Wander.

Victor Wooten assembled a squad of some of his favorite musicians and brought his new line-up to an eager St. Louis crowd, bristling with excitement over a night that featured new music with a dash of past favorites.

The Old Rock House was packed early, and patrons began to vie for angle at the stage or simply settle for a good view of the closed-circuit televisions as even the standing room had evaporated before the first note. 
 
Music lovers often find themselves in debates as they try to rank their favorites at each instrument, and Wooten often causes a stir. Considered the greatest bassist by a small but loyal minority, Victor Wooten is held in regard with some of the other greats of jazz and beyond. While initially recognized as a founding member of Béla Fleck’s supergroup, the Flecktones, the ambitious bassist has proved his significance with five studio albums of his own and a number of collaborations, including S.M.V., a group that united him with fellow bass deities, Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller. Wooten is currently touring to promote a double-release, due out in the fall, featuring “Words & Tones,” mixing his compositions with a choice selection of female vocalists, and its counterpart, “Sword & Stone,” which adapts the songs with fully-instrumental versions.
 
The music started before the band made its entrance, as the soft sounds of orchestral strings quieted the bustling crowd. After a few serene, mood-setting minutes of a recorded composition, reminiscent of a lighthearted film score, Wooten lead his troop to the stage, and hushed the uproar of applause by picking up a bow to join in. Layers of contemplative, spoken-word sound clips danced in the air, stirring the attentions and thoughts of the fans below, slowly building in crescendo until broken by the soft, jazz-filled voice of Krystal Peterson. 
 
Peterson, a young, petite blonde with sizable tattoos peeking out the shoulders of her black dress, handled the vocals for many of the new songs, and highlighted a group of veteran talent. From the first number, the arrangement garnered special attention in composition alone. The stage featured two drum sets at either end, facing each other, and a line of four bassists, including Wooten, but the back of the stage had instruments scattered around like a dumped toy chest.
 
The frontman handled a variety of basses, electric and stand-up, with a cello mixed in late in the show, while the rest of the band proved to be just as versatile. The drums at the far left were manned by J.D. Blair, who added vocals and even played some bass himself in the show, and is promoting a new album of his own. The line of other bassists included Anthony Wellington, who added guitar in the rare instances it was used, Dave Welsch, who also manned the laptop and played a stunning trumpet, and Steve Bailey, department head at Berklee School of Music, who threw in a dash of trombone as well. The final spot on stage went to drummer Derico Watson, a skilled stickman with quick feet on the pedals.
 
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Concert review and set list: Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs and Donald Fagen wow crowd as the Dukes of September at the Fabulous Fox, Wednesday, June 20

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The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue kicked off its summer tour last night at the Fox, reviving the sounds of 1970s AM radio created by the group’s three principals, Boz Scaggs, Donald Fagen (Steely Dan) and hometowner Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers).

The trio played in a music-in-the-round style, each singer drawing from their sizable catalogs while adding some key covers that inspired them early in their careers.

The large and talented backing band took the stage and set the night’s tone launching into James Brown’s “People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul.” The three titans of the night entered the stage to a standing ovation.

Fagen took the reins as emcee of the night, which was ironic given his struggles with stage fright early in his career. McDonald was placed at center stage but didn’t have as much crowd interaction as I would have expected. Fagen, however, did a great job engaging the crowd and moving the show along.

After McDonald sang backup on the Isley Brothers’ “That Lady,” Fagen introduced the Ferguson, Mo.-native and the crowd went nuts. McDonald’s first song on lead vocals was the horntastic Arthur Conley song, “Sweet Soul Music.”

McDonald boasts a long history of providing enthusiastic backing vocals dating back to his days with Steely Dan. But when this U-City Walk of Fame inductee is singing lead, it makes you feel like you’re drinking the expensive wine.

Next up was McDonald’s smooth groove, “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near).” McDonald, 60, labored through the high notes, yet it was still surreal to watch him sing this live. With the impossibly-elevated notes the song requires, the 1982 Michael McDonald perhaps set the bar too high for his future self. No matter though. Like many of his songs, McDonald had plenty of real estate to ad-lib and pull off many surprises.

McDonald’s powerful voice blew fans’ hair and drinks back like a 1979 Maxell ad, but Scaggs was the sleeper hit of this night.

Whether he was singing Muddy Waters’ “Same Thing” blues or his own “Lowdown,” Scaggs enraptured the crowd and shockingly garnered more and bigger standing ovations than McDonald. Overall, his steady voice has held up the best among the three, and he let his rootsy musical tastes do the talking.

The tour’s professional backing band deserves a shout out, made up of guitar extraordinaire Jon Herington, two female background singers, three horn players, a funky bass player (Freddie Washington) and a top notch drummer (Shannon Forrest). An extra keyboard player joined a full-frontal piano assault with McDonald on another keyboard and Fagen on a baby grand. Scaggs rounded out the group on guitar.

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Concert review: Alan Evans Trio and the Rhythm Section Road Show throw funk fiesta at the Old Rock House, Saturday, May 5

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The opening act went on an hour later than announced; presumably waiting for the Cinco de Mayo crowd to bring their fiesta to the Old Rock House with them. Once the party got started though, there was funk for all.

Alan Evans is the drummer from the band Soulive, which was founded by his brother Neal Evans and himself in the late 1990s. Their upbeat, power grooves gained them notoriety on the funk/jazz scene, and Soulive still has a strong following. The Alan Evans Trio is Evans’ own offshoot project consisting, again, of an organ, guitar and drum lineup but with Evans in a leading role with Danny Mayer on guitar and Beau Sasser on the Hammond organ.

It’s a comfortable setting for Evans and that comfort shows in their music, which never falls far from Evan’s roots. Mayer comes from the On the Spot Trio, which has an established position of its own on the funk scene. Sasser has played with no less than Maceo Parker, Melvin Sparks and Medeski, Martin, and Wood among many others. Currently, when not playing with Alan Evans, Sasser leads his own organ trio.

Led by 88.1 KDHX DJ Andy Coco, the Rhythm Section Road Show opened with a set of jam rock funk, that brought everyone off their feet and onto the dance floor. The Roadshow this night was Teddy Presberg on guitar, Coco on bass, Kyle Honeycutt on drums and Chris Stevenson on organ. Songs featured in the set included “Flash Mob” by Teddy Presberg and a funkified rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time is Gonna Come.” They did a great job of opening the night and warming the crowd up for the Alan Evans Trio.

Once the Alan Evan’s Trio hit the stage and were ready to play, Evans called out to the crowd: “Do you want us to play quiet or loud?” The audience yelled out, “Loud!” in reply, which brought on a drum fill opening and the trio’s first song. They followed the opening song with “Authoritay,” the first track from their new album “Drop Hop.” This was followed by the crowd getting together and dancing while the grooves propelled a meager but very-involved audience while being blasted by some very loud funk.

The night went on and we were bombarded with explosive drumming, soulful guitar solos and masterfully orchestrated organ playing. The Cinco de Mayo spirit seemed to be in effect among the crowd as well as on stage. My initial expectations going into the concert were to find a serious funk jazz trio laying down some serious music. It being Saturday and Cinco de Mayo it seemed they might have sacrificed the seriousness a bit to bring the party to the Old Rock House. Not particularly my cup of tea, but it’s what worked for the crowd so I cannot fault them for it. It was definitely a fun night for everyone there.

Concert review: The Gramophone doubles down on funk with T Bird and the Breaks and the Diplomats of Solid Sound, Sunday, April 15

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As a heavy rain fell on St. Louis, two bands showered fans at the Gramophone with punchy, Memphis-style grooves at a KDHX-welcomed event.

T Bird and the Breaks, from Austin, opened the night, their first-ever appearance in the Gateway City. The stripped-down ensemble of guitar, bass, drums and sax backed up singer/front man Tim Crane, a.k.a. T Bird, who was in full persona with his fedora, aviator sunglasses and dance moves that ranged from a stationary strut to a sort of bob ‘n’ weave.

Unlike fellow Austin native Black Joe Lewis, who approaches soul music with a heavier blues edge, T Bird’s stage presence and vocal style lends more of an old-school hip-hop flair to the genre. For example, for an encore the band played “Dancehall Freakin,” the title track of its latest EP, which features call-and-response rapping over funky riffs that brings Beastie Boys to mind. The group had reinforced this association earlier in the set by launching into a convincing cover of “Root Down.”

T Bird and the Breaks does dabble in several different styles, proof of which was evident in Sunday night’s glittery interpretation of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil” and a much more literal cover of Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar.” And of course the originals including “Take Time” and “Stand Up” from the 2009 album “Learn About It” are prime examples of how soulful the group can get, even without the full horn section and female backup singers on the record.

However, the group’s recent touring partners, the Diplomats of Solid Sound, from Iowa City, lent their soulful singers Sarah Cram and Kathy Ruestow to back up T Bird during “The Clap Hands Song.” This was the experience fans of “Learn About It” expected to hear, and it was a high point in the set.

The low point of the night had nothing to do with the music. The weather kept the turnout small, and it seemed like there were more hecklers in the audience than fans. Nonetheless, the band played its collective heart out, and hopefully it will meet a more deserving reception the next time around.

The Diplomats of Solid Sound, while also playing to a sparse crowd, did not hold back on the energy either. This is a well-seasoned group that has recorded for more than a decade and has played in St. Louis several times before. Members quickly took the stage and set up their instruments including a big, boxy Hammond B-3 organ that lends the throwback sound reminiscent of the MGs. Also present was a baritone sax, guitar, drums and, at center, Cram and Ruestow on vocals.

The leading ladies, known as the Diplomettes, ascended onto the stage as the band played a song from their extensive catalog, “Intercontinental Git.” Their voices were consistently clear in each song, including during the spelled-out lyrics of “B-O-O-G-A-L-O-O” and the back-and-forth opening dialogue leading into “Fascination,” the first of two encores. The harmonies and showmanship (finger snaps, glamour poses, lovely outfits) the singers brought evoked comparisons with the Supremes and the Ikettes. The surprisingly full sound of the band’s select instruments (no bass, only one horn) filled the venue with upbeat and entrancing riffs.

The night in all was a satisfying combination of T Bird and the Breaks’ young and edgy interpretation of funk and soul with the more classic style of the Diplomats of Solid Sound. Nothing could have provided a more stark contrast with the chilly, gloomy weather outside than the scorching sounds and vibrant presence that each band offered. I recommend keeping an eye on the radar for the next time either of these bands storm through St. Louis.

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