JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, via Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, got it together around 2007. Since then, they've proven to crowd after crowd where the baton that such legends as James Brown and Booker T and the MG's have held now resides. With a rotating cast that includes a brass section and a myriad of supporting musicians, JC Brooks, Billy Bungeroth, Kevin Marks, Andy Rosenstein and Ben Taylor successfully played snake charmer to their suddenly-not-still St. Louis fans.
After a low-key opener, "Want More" marked the start of the sweat. The title cut off the latest album, deservedly so, shows the band at its best. Everyone hits their trademark strengths: bass slinking between frets, drums pounding out the dance steps, falsetto backup vocals hitting repeat and the guitar swaying with JC's impromptu persuasions. The set, a gift to the fans, allowed a few sneak peeks at the current roster attempting to make it to the next wax pressing. "Rouse Yourself," one such newbie, made for a truly provocative performance. Recalling Sam Cooke's fine discography, the track both laments a current, better-left-unsaid state of affairs, while highlighting the positive facts that we can still work with.
Prior to the Uptown Sound's workout, Bailiff provided some introspection. Thanking the familiar faces from Chicago in the crowd -- the three piece also hails from the Windy City -- Bailiff brooded and impeccably slid between the songs of their euphoric set. Their melodies reigned supreme, sounding like the soundtrack to a favorite dream. "When I Leave You Will Stay," a sing-along to wrap the set, truly deserves some radio rotation.
The Pinstripes, together since high school -- nine years by drummer John Bertke's count -- proved another bright spot on a stellar Off Broadway night. With a three-piece brass section up front, the guys carved out a menacing personal manifesto; reaffirming that whatever your desire, fight, dance or love, you needn't look any further. The rest of the set -- sans even a violent gesture -- created what the dedicated skankers up front already faced: an infectious, irresistible bounce.
However, this was the Uptown Sound's night. "I Got High," and the incredible stretch it started, served as one long collective highlight. The immaculate re-imagining of Jeff Tweedy's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" came next, before "75 Years of Art Sex" got its own re-imagining. The band effortlessly switched between Moby's "Natural Blues" chorus -- "Ain't nobody know my troubles but god" -- and a quick dip into Peggy Lee's "Fever" before bringing it all home.
However, it was the completely unanticipated, and in-hindsight, desperately desired, cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" in which Brooks and the Uptown Sound distilled their eloquent message. Playing the cover straight, as they are rarely want to do, JC might've even found a dynamic enough foil in Mr. Bowie himself. Coming back out for their encore, the band flashed a few genuine smiles that rivaled the elation the crowd felt.
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound set list:
Married for a Week
I Got High
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
I Can See Everything
75 Years of Art Sex
Let's Dance (David Bowie cover)
Everything Will Be Fine
Baltimore Is the New Brooklyn