Words by: Eric Podolsky | Images by: Josh Miller
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe/Robert Walter's 20th Congress :: 03.21.09 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA
With three-fifths of the Greyboy Allstars in the house Saturday night at The Independent for a Karl Denson's Tiny Universe/Robert Walter's 20th Congress double bill, it was immediately apparent that the crowd would be getting its money's worth. From the first notes of Robert Walter's set, the boogie was on with a vengeance. Greyboy bassist Chris Stillwell was on double duty this night, playing with both bands, which were admittedly similar in their sax/organ/guitar acid-jazz boogaloo, each branches off of the Greyboy family tree.
Walter had the room packed for his all-instrumental opening set, and the energy did not let up for one moment till the 1 a.m. curfew. Walter's sax player Cochemea "Cheme" Gastelum had the band in his reins for a good portion of the set, playing out with reverb-laced solos, which Walter accentuated with huge washes of Hammond. He soon switched to the Rhodes, at which point we were treated to some slinky Headhunters-Thrust style fusion grooves. Walter certainly wasn't afraid to take it way out there into space-funk-land with his analog keyboards, which in my opinion will always pack a better sound than anything digital. By the end of the organ and tambourine fueled rave-up to close the 20th Congress set, the audience was already plenty sweaty. Set break was used to refuel the juices before the main event.
As KDTU took the stage, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen this band in many years. What with the Greyboy Allstars reuniting and Karl Denson's trio side project, the Tiny Universe has been out of the spotlight for a while, where they were once a mainstay headliner in festivals all over the place. As the band dove into their first song, it also occurred to me that I had forgotten what an incredibly tight band they are. Aside from the tight-as-a-drum groove, what struck me most were the vocals, especially the flawless harmonies by Chris Littlefield and Brian Jordan. Denson has always had a great voice, but the band's harmonies were almost Jackson-like in their Motown fluidity. Were they really this good back in 2002?
Denson led the pack dressed in a tucked-in Polo and khakis, blowing his sax with eyes clenched tight. The groove was relentless, with Stillwell on bass and locking in with drummer John Staten with ease. With the band chugging along and locked in as a cohesive unit, a first set highlight was the old favorite "Bag of Funk," at which point I had a small revelation: I realized how absolutely essential the rhythm guitar of Brian Jordan was. His thick 'n' chunky syncopated playing was exactly where it should be at all times, continually acting as the flame from beneath that kept the band's funk stew boiling and bubbling away. Just like momma used to make, thick 'n' chunky.
|Karl Denson :: 03.20 :: San Francisco|
After a set break where the dance-party in the room was maintained by an excellent, tasteful set by DJ Motion Potion (MMW and G-Funk on the dance floor!), KDTU started it back up with an Afrobeat groove, heavy on percussion. This soon morphed into some sexy soul as the horns dropped, and Denson gave us the best baby-makin' music he could. Once again, it was all about the rhythm guitar, chugging away and filling those empty spaces with its sharp attack. Soon after, Rob Walter joined the band with his 20th Congress percussionist for a Greyboy superjam, which stretched into some dark fusion, the jam punctuated with the musicians trading some long-winded, questioning musical licks.
By this point, the crowd was starting to thin a bit, as the funk had been thrown at us relentlessly now for over three hours. Too bad for those who left, as the band closed the show with a huge bust-out of Stevie Wonder's "Contusion." This tune came completely out of left field, and my tired brain first thought it was a Headhunters tune, but soon realized it was the epic fusion number from Songs in the Key of Life. With its spinning horn lines and old-school Rhodes, "Contusion" gave us a last chance to ass-shake our worn-out booties in a night that ran the gauntlet of all things groove. For those who have not seen KDTU lately, do yourselves a favor and go, soon, as this funk machine is back with a vengeance.
KDTU are on tour now; dates available here.
Continue reading for more pics of KDTU in San Francisco...
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