At Summerfest, there’s sometimes that uneasy tension between a band with one real hit to its name and the majority of the crowd there to see it. The large chunk of the audience just desperately wants to hear the lone song they actually know and came to see, while the upstart little music group tries to postpone the inevitable, playing some other tunes while desperately hoping you’ll find some new tracks to enjoy.
At first glance, Kongos – the Phoenix (by way of South Africa and London) based band of brothers – seemed to be a strong candidate to recreate this experience. After all, the group only has the one true hit – "Come With Me Now" – so far, and the younger Summerfest crowds haven’t exactly been the most active so far four days into the festival, even for artists with enough successful tunes to put together a solid greatest hits album.
Yet, as the band charged into its first bunch of numbers at the U.S. Cellular Stage, the crowd didn’t seem to mind waiting for "Come With Me Now" at all, thanks mainly to an energetic, stomping locomotive of a rock show put on by the quartet.
The four brothers – Johnny, Jesse, Dylan and Daniel – opened the night off with "Hey I Don’t Know (Why Don’t You Tell Me?)," a good driving start slightly marred by a hollow, echoing mix on drummer/singer Jesse’s vocals. The early kinks were quickly straightened out, however, on the next song, "Sex on the Radio," where the band’s unique rock sound was on full display. And by "unique rock sound," I mean, "Johnny Kongos pulled out his accordion and played the first of several solos with it." The boys certainly don’t hide the sometimes maligned instrument, hanging it solos and making it an integral part of their sound.
Accordion or no, it’s a fun, diverse sound at that, one with a kind of tribal stomp that manages to sound heavy and hard while at the same time playfully springy and bouncy, driving rock songs with the occasional soaring grace. Take for instance the early combination of "Take Me Back" and "Kids These Days," the former with cutting vocal harmonies while the latter is a ferocious, satisfying straightforward rock song.
After winning the audience over with the first four rocking numbers, each one complete with an accordion or guitar solo or two, Kongos made what at first seemed like a dangerous decision.
The band chose to slow things down with the mellow, quieter "Escape" – a tune about the southern tip of South Africa, supposedly the best place to be during the end of days according to Nostradamus said Jesse and Dylan in one of their many amusingly matter-of-fact between-song interactions – just when it seemed like new fans were getting into their rocking, stomping groove. However, the pick paid off, with the lush harmonies still captivating the crowd.
It wouldn’t be the first oddly successful risk of the night for Kongos either. The next three songs continued to get the fans moving, including the rebel yell-fueled "I Don’t Mind," the clacking and rollicking "I’m Only Joking" (the band’s next single) and the pulled-from-the-pub "This Time I Won’t Forget." It was another solid stretch for the band, suddenly cut off by … a rap break?
Yes, the boys brought their friend Moe’z Art onto the stage to do a couple of verses on the next song. Those already familiar with the band knew it was a tradition of sorts, but newcomers, like myself, were mildly shocked by the quick rap detour. Yet, once again, the risk worked out.
The song ended up being "Come Together," a fairly usual cover choice given a very unusual fresh coat of paint by the combination of Moe’z Art and Kongos. The rendition had a surprisingly rocking yet mellow funky groove with a touch of (I kid you not) Dr. Dre’s "Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang" gliding on top of it. It could’ve been a disaster; instead, it was kind of sneakily awesome.
Kongos wrapped up the show with the wailing guitar solos of "I Want to Know," "Take It From Me" and the easy going rock tune "It’s a Good Life" before finally ending the show with, yes, the hit "Come With Me Now," complete with its earwormy combination of rebel yells and vigorous stomp-happy beat. The only negative: lead singer Dylan clearly wanted the crowd to jump, a mostly impossible feat considering the bleachers (maybe more standing pit space and less bleachers in the future, Summerfest?).
Still, the song – and the whole set – was a hit, certain to satisfy devoted fans and newcomers in equal measure. When they came out for a two-song encore of covers – one charmingly of their ’70s pop star dad John Kongos’ "Tokoloshe Man" and the other a voice modified, chugging version of yet another Beatles tune, "Get Back" – the band recalled the last time they were in Milwaukee, playing in a basement for about 10 fans.
There were certainly more than ten Saturday night, and judging by the way the Kongos played, there will probably be even more next time around.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published July 31, 2014
It's not unusual for artists and writers to revisit some of their past works and explore new sides of the characters they've brought into the world. In Lesley Kagen's case, however, her latest work - the e-novella "The Undertaking of Tess" - is revisiting characters that haven't even been introduced yet.
Published July 30, 2014
"Hercules" not only bounds over the previously set bar but easily stands on its own right as surprisingly solid B-movie entertainment, a sort of sword-and-sandals variation of the John Wayne classic "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" that cleverly hints at subverting and deconstructing its titular legend and the process of mythmaking. It's also a movie in which The Rock throws a horse.
Published July 28, 2014
The haunting music and beauty of "The Phantom of the Opera" - now playing at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts - can still summon shivers, even right in the middle of the dog days of summer.
Published July 26, 2014
For just two guys, Royal Blood is certainly making a lot of noise. With the band's debut album set to arrive next month, the raucous duo of Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher is now on the road, with a stop at The Rave Monday, July 28 next up on the schedule. Before then, however, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with Thatcher about the band's origins, its inspirations and the all-too-deservedly forgotten '90s band Aqua.
Published July 24, 2014
Every now and then, the writers here at OnMilwaukee.com decide to give other, unique jobs a try. Some have tried cheesemaking. Others the ballet. Me? Well, I fought in the Civil War.
Published July 22, 2014
"The Purge: Anarchy" finds DeMonaco coming closer to turning a good premise into an actually good movie. The sequel still feels like a missed opportunity for something smarter, sharper and just overall better, but hey, at least he made a decent horror thriller this time.
Published July 22, 2014
In addition to the successful rotation of the Oriental, the Downer and the Fox Bay movie theaters, the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival has recruited the Times Cinema to its Avengers team of old school Milwaukee movie houses.
Published July 21, 2014
Thankfully, "Fire and Rescue" is a step above its predecessor, if only because the movie was actually made for big screen consumption this time. Gone is the stiff, antiseptic joylessness of the first film, now upgraded to mere bland competence. If "Planes" was like eating cardboard, "Fire and Rescue" is slightly more digestible cardboard. So progress?
Published July 19, 2014
All musicians create new music. Even the most derivative Top 40 hit features a new combination of notes and lyrics. Very few, however, can claim to have come up with a whole new genre of sound. Chicago blues extraordinaire Corky Siegel is one of those few.
Published July 17, 2014
As a fan rooting for Argentina in the World Cup, last weekend was likely a little rough for Italian crooner Patrizio Buanne. This upcoming weekend, however, is shaping up much more nicely with two headlining performances set for Festa Italiana.