Sister Sledge said it best, “We are Family…”, except in the case of the band the Kongos, it’s all about brothers. The Kongos hail from Arizona by way of South Africa, and their childhood roots have seemingly bestowed upon these four siblings the gift of deep, heavy rhythms with their drum-centered rock. There is an incredible cohesion that sets them apart from other bands, as the music is literally in their blood.
The brothers Kongo are a talented bunch of men; guitarist Daniel Kongos, bass and slide guitarist Dylan Kongos, drummer Jesse Kongos and Johnny Kongos who does it up on accordion and keyboards. Aside from sharing vocal and songwriting credits, the band creates a self-contained music-making machine by doing their own recording, engineering, making their own videos and using vigilante marketing tactics that includes their own podcast as well as a ten episode web series, “Bus Call”, centered around their life on the road, “We finally left our label,” singer-guitarist Daniel Kongos declared from the stage,. “We were at a point of, just, ‘fuck this business.'”
With three albums under their belt including Egomaniac (2016) and Lunatic (2014), and the latest epic album 1929, which will be fully released this month (though the band has been slowly releasing songs via their website.) The tour set off at SF’s Great American Music Hall Wednesday evening, a venue that creates an amazing intimacy between musician and fan. From the first notes to the last, the Kongos set the mood for the night with music that is uplifting, vibrant, fun and buoyant in a way that cuts right through you. The band’s music spans the gamut of genres, pop, blues, Zydeco, Eastern, electronic, African and pure rock. After opening with the blues rocker “I Am Not Me”, the Kongos jump started the night with the danceable groove of “The World Would Run Better” Peppering their set with new songs sa well as the mega-pop hits such as “Hey I Don’t Know”, “Pay For The Weekend” and the foot-stomper “Come With Me Now”, the Kongos dug deep into their amazing catalogue of great songs and ended the night with the encores of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and “I’m Only Joking”,
Up until about two weeks ago, I had not heard of the Kongos.But upon discovering them I was immediately hooked on the music they create. With those hard-driving rhythms and throbbing beats molded into a modern vibe, the band has now created a new and rabid fan in me.
The band walks onto the stage, humble and focused. They plug in and tune their instruments amid the murmurs of the crowd before them. There is a momentary stillness before the onslaught of sound, a calm before the storm as we say. And then the first chords are stuck, the first bass line released and the drumbeat leads in with its steady throb and pulse. Then it begins, a tsunami wave of sonic madness is brought forth, and Howlin’ Rain thunders and shakes within the power of their music.
Oakland’s Howlin’ Rain is pure SOUND! Big sound, loud and all encompassing sound, an epic presence of sound. They walk the line of psychedelic rock, Americana, blues and “thrasher” rock, keeping a balance within the mash-up of genres to produce some of the best current music ever to be smashed into your brain. The band is musically and professionally tight, and there is such an extraordinary dynamic between the players that can only be seen as prodigious. Front man, vocalist and guitarist Ethan Miller led the way at Howlin’ Rain’s recent show at Petaluma’s Mystic Theater, making space for bassist Jeff McElroy, guitarist Dan Cervantes and drummer Justin Smith to follow along with their own bionic powers to create music that flows smoothly yet rips you up on the inside in a good way.
The band tore through songs that were mighty and soulful, including the boisterous “Missouri”, the bluesy “Alligator Bride”, with those searing guitar licks, “Phantom Of The Valley” with it’s haunting lyrics and beautiful harmonies and the crunchy yet gentle groove of “Coming Down”.
I speak often of the gifts we acquire from hearing live music, on how the musicians we witness give us more than just songs. With Howlin’ Rain, they give us huge parts of themselves, they give us all they’ve got. The band makes no sacrifices with what they put forth, and that can be felt and heard with the immense sound that they produce.
The music of Chris Robinson Brotherhood has something to say. It tells us to shut the fuck up and listen; it tells us to forget our worries for a few hours; it tells us to smile at the people around us and sing as they sing; and lastly, it tells us to have fun and it encourages us to be buoyant and joyful. With the dueling guitars of Chris Robinson and Neal Casal, in addition to the thumping bass of Jeff Hill, the booming drums of Tony Leone and a constant waterfall of Adam MacDougall’s masterful keys, the Brotherhood takes us on a musical journey outside of ourselves. They allow us to have some time away from our regular reality as their music feeds our souls.
With the 3-night run at San Francisco’s famed Fillmore Auditorium, CRB was in epic form. Saturday night’s show was filled with treasured songs from CRB’s backstock of tunes. Opening with the epicness of “Comin’ Around The Mountain” and “Oak Apple Day”, CRB spoon fed us love and joy with each moment of the band’s amazing and deeply connected personal dynamic with each other and with the audience. The band specializes in long, psychedelic blues jams, with each member playing off the others like a giant game of sonic ping-pong. The 2 incredibly fun sets also included “She Shares My Blanket”, ”Try Rock and Roll”, “Let It Fall”, and Hoyt Axton’s “Never Been To Spain”. With “I Ain’t Hiding”, CRB tapped into a bit of The Black Crowes songbook and the night ended in an encore of the band’s first-time coverage of Free’s “Ride The Pony”.
For a few hours, the world as we know it ceased to exist. We relaxed, let go, danced and sang. To all of us present at this amazing CRB show, we were only aware of the throbbing notes and chords wrapping us in a sonic blanket that was asking us to simply be present with joy while we listened and felt with our whole being.