in performance: jc brooks and the uptown sound

jc brooks.

jc brooks.

“We don’t usually have this kind of child-band interaction,” remarked Chicago soul stylist JC Brooks as his set with the Uptown Sound for Crave Lexington celebrated sundown last night at Masterson Station Park.

The observation addressed the fanbase that took up Brooks’ invitation to dance at the front of the stage – specifically, a group of a dozen kids that seemed to be having the Saturday Night of their lives as the band meshed vintage Muscle Shoals-style soul, ‘80s keyboard-heavy funk and numerous modern rock assimilations.

From the later category came the show-opening cover of fellow Chicago troupe Wilco’s I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. But instead of the tense, dense ambience of the original, Brooks and company accelerated the pace to redo the tune as a soul hullabaloo.

From there, the 80 minute show sailed through the ages, recalling ‘60s era falsetto runs runs (I Got High, Rouse Yourself) but regularly updating with comparatively modern Prince-like funk (Howl, Baadnews). Add in the stylistic breadth of the Uptown Sound, especially the Rhodes-like keyboard colors of Jeremy Tromburg and the percussion drive of JoVia Armstrong, and the performance became less and less specific of any soul era.

But it was the tougher edge of the songs that underscored the set’s distinction. Sure, there was plenty of celebratory reflection. But there was also a restless lyrical front that flew in the face of any retro leanings, whether it was the warm embrace offered to the band’s often wintry hometown in the show-closing You Can’t Break Me (“Ain’t too cold in the city I love”) or the dissing of a different metropolis in Baltimore is the New Brooklyn (“Nobody really wants to be down in Washington, DC”).

It would have been nice if the Crave crowd had involved itself in the show more. Brooks was a skilled and forthcoming showman, but the audience seemed largely passive – ensnared more of by festival’s primary focus on food and its own abundant chatter.

The kids got the message, though, and Brooks took notice.

“Meet the newest members of the Uptown payroll,” he said. But that was hardly the case, either. The youthful dancers surrendered readily and gleefully to the groove all on their own.

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