KC Confidential: “Donnelly: Chicago Afrobeat Project at the Bottleneck”

November 1, 2010

This article originally appeared on KC Confidential. 

I could hire a band to play my backyard on the sweatiest summer night, this would be it…  

Girls would be dancing and twirling and drinking too much.  Maracas would be shaking.  I would be smoking a Cuban cigar and making sure that the girls were drinking too much.  The Chicago Afrobeat Projectwould be cranking out tight funk, rock, jazz, and afro-cuban music.

Too bad this show fell on a chilly night in late October. Judging from the crowd at theBottleneck Friday you would think some no-name singer/songwriter was whining about something-or-other onstage. Some old folks sipped beers and some younger folks kind of swayed lazily back and forth.  This silver fox came up to me and chatted me up about the ripping horn section, then quickly segued to a rant on the blatantly corrupt power structure of beltway politics.  If ever there was a crowd who needed to be slapped in the mouth, this was it.

I had to get in a shot. 

But damn, these Afrobeatists are some funky mofos.  Going into the show I didn’t really know what to expect from this band, or what “afrobeat” really was.  I was expecting a little less rock, a little more jazz and a little more horn-centric vibe.  The band did have two horns – a tenor and a baritone sax – keys, drums, auxiliary percussion, guitar, bass, and sometimes vocals.

As the set progressed a couple of things became crystal clear:

The keyboard player is a mad man.  This guy can wail. Both by adding texture to the overall sound and with his impressive improvisational solos.  Seriously, seriously folks, worth the price of admission just for that.

And the horn section makes the band.

Especially sweet was the low, low crunchy end of the barry sax on the complex harmonized rhythmic background figures.  I would love to see the version of this band with a full horn section – just add a trumpet and a trombone and I’m sold.

This band has some killer chops, they performed like real pros.  The guitarist was spot on and super tasteful with his tones; the new-ish vocalist added a nice wrinkle with his chants, call-and-response lyrical style, and overall engaging stage presence; and the bassist laid down a booming foundation to support it all.

What I’m trying to say is, these guys are all really good.   

So why did I feel a little let down after the show, not sweaty and tired and drunken?  This is a party band, you know?  This outfit is tight, but they are dependent on vibe and energy for their live shows.  But as hard as the band jammed, as much energy as they brought, the crowd was never quite able to get to the band’s level.

Next time I catch the Chicago Afrobeat Project I’ll make sure to do them justice.  I will make sure that it is summertime, at an outdoor venue – say the Crossroads in Kansas City – and if need be I’ll bring my own dancing, twirling girls.

Matthew Donnelly


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