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Kongos revives engaging sounds at Midland show
07/01/2014 2:41 PM
The line between reinvention and revival can get precariously thin when it comes to music. Monday night’s show at the Midland is evidence of that.
The openers were Scruffy and the Janitors, a stout power trio from St. Joseph that delves straightforward into the garage-rock blues in the manner of the Black Keys and White Stripes, and Brick and Mortar, a duo from New Jersey that augments its diverse sound — a mix of punk, reggae, hip-hop and rock — with samples and synthesizers.
There is both an air of familiarity and an element of suprise in the music of Brick and Mortar, the duo of Brandon Asraf (guitar, bass, samples and vocals) and John Tacon (drums, samples and vocals). Songs like “Bangs” evoke the style of the Black Keys but are embellished with electronic additives and take enough unexpected, improvised twists and turns to give their sound a sense of moody weirdness that is refreshing.
On their Facebook page, they call their music “electro/concrete/psychedelic/ghetto/indie rock,” which is as apt a description as any. Asraf has a reservoir of front-man charisma, enough to engage and arouse the crowd of 900-plus, many of whom were seeing the band for the first time.
The headliner was Kongos, a band of four brothers — Dylan, Daniel, Johnny and Jesse Kongos — from Phoenix via Johannesburg, South Africa. They are sons of John Kongos, a singer/songwriter whose song “He’s Gonna Step On You Again” was a Top 100 hit in 1971 and inspired the Happy Mondays’ song “Step On.”
His sons have released two recordings, the most recent of which is called “Lunatic,” though there is little lunacy in their music. There are strains of familiarity in their music, too; bands such as Gomez, Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, INXS and the Killers came to mind during their set.
Songs like “Sex on the Radio” are bubbly and melodic, buoyed by Johnny Kongos’ lively accordion, which evokes the South African sounds on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album (think of “The Boy in the Bubble”). That song came early in a set that changed gears enough to keep the mood percolating.
The setlist included the slow-moving “Take Me Back,” the guitar-chiming “Kids These Days” and the lovely, lambent ballad “This Time I Won’t Forget,” which was embroidered with heaves of accordion and peals of slide guitar. They brought out a guest, Moe’z Art, to lead the band through a rap-style version of the Beatles’ “Come Together” that featured some stylish keyboard filigrees from Johnny Kongos. That prompted the loudest singalong of the night among a crowd that was primarily younger than 30. (The Beatles are forever timeless, eh?)
They also played their two best-known songs: the hard-charging “Come With Me Now,” which includes fierce gang vocals from all four brothers, and the bouncy “I’m Only Joking,” which marches to a militia beat. Like most of the music heard this evening, neither “reinvented the wheel,” to borrow a lyric from “Kids These Days,” but both were well-crafted and entertaining, which can be enough to ask for these days.