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August 18, 2014
REVIEW: Promising KONGOS urges Musikfest Cafe crowd to 'Come With Me Now'
Total People in Discussion: 5
Categories: Concert Reviews, Music, Music News, Musikfest, New CDs
Posted by The Morning Call at 08:47:29 AM on August 18, 2014

KONGOS 0Whether hot South African alt-rockers KONGOS – they of the hit song “Come With Me Now” -- will have a long career is, at this point, anyone’s guess.

But the quartet of brothers put on a beat-heavy show at Bethlehem’s Musikfest Café at ArtsQuest Center that certainly left open that possibility, and was fun in the meantime.

The 85-minute show was all about the beat. The group’s16 songs were nearly all thumping and drum-heavy rock. That’s not a criticism: It’s a good and distinctive musical style and one not heard enough recently in an era when electronics often rule.

KONGOS 3The sound started with the opening “Hey I Know,” the first of 10 songs the band played from its 12-song debut album “Lunatic,” released in the United States in February. The drums were almost tribal, and continued on “Sex On the Radio,” though by adding slide guitar to the former and accordion to the latter, the group showed it has more tricks in its bag than a heavy beat.

“Kids These Days” was like a drunken pub song, sometimes cacophonous and pounding to a finish.

KONGOS changed it up with the slower “Take Me Back,” which had harmonized vocals over accordion, and “Escape,” the group’s 2012 minor hit, was one of the best of the night, with drummer Jesse Kongos’s lighter, more expressive vocals. The beat still was prominent, but more driving than thumping.

KONGOS 1As it did on many songs, the crowd of 818 took up the beat by clapping along.

“I Want to Know” was funky reggae, and also very good was “This Time I Won’t Forget,” slow and vaguely Celtic with its humming accordion and funeral-march drums.

The band added rapper Mo Gordon on an energetic “I’m Only Joking,” the group’s breakthrough 2011 alternative hit. The song had more energy than most others, as all the band members jumped, and the crowd jumped with them.

Two new songs showed some growth. “I Don’t Mind” was a thumper with lyrical delivery like Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” only darker, with an organ solo. And “Take It From Me” was big and beat-y with yelping, chirpy vocals that were catchy.

But it was on two covers that the band sounded most promising.

KONGOS 5Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole” was, by turns, bluesy and jazzy, starting with an instrumental section that lasted a full three minutes. Then hip-hop as Gordon came back to rap and the band added a strong guitar riff and wild drumming. It seemed as if the group finally really let go.

And Gordon returned for impressively speedy raps on an interesting update of The Beatles’ “Come Together” that had percolating tension.

KONGOS closed with “It’s a Good Life,” which also was chant-y, but also far more poppy and fun – an element that such a young band should have far more of.

Of course, it closed the main set with “Come With Me Now.” It’s a wicked good song, and the band played it for all it’s worth, with bassist/singer Dylan Kongos whipping his hair around. But the band missed the opportunity to extend that fun by closing down the song after barely four minutes.

But it continued the energy on the encore, starting with a cover of “Tokoloshe Man,” a 1971 U.K. hit for the band members’ father , John Kongos. It had the big beat, but big guitars to match it, as well.

And then the band rocked out with a credible cover of another Beatles tune, “Get Back.” They played with a lot of energy and excitement – the guitar scrubbing, drums wailing and organ swirling.

If it can find that type of energy for an entire performance and for new songs, KONGOS may, indeed, have a longer career. If not, Sunday was at least fun.