The eclectic jam/funk band Bullfrog has played over a hundred live shows a year since their 1994 inception. Their experience was apparent as they presented a flawless performance to an enthusiastic crowd at the Abbey Pub in Chicago on Wednesday. Not only was their mind-blowing set more incredible than I would have imagined, but I was also blessed with a pleasant surprise as the opening band turned out to be Drums and Tuba.

From what I had heard the lineup was supposed to include a pre-show DJ, some sort of opening act, and then Bullfrog. Talk about an understatement! As we walked through the doors of the Abbey we knew instantly that we had underestimated the evening’s entertainment as we spotted Koala at home behind the turntables. If you haven’t gotten out to see this kid spin, I highly suggest you do so the next time he’s in your area. He blends elements of hip-hop, jazz, drum and bass, and just about every other genre into a smooth and delicious treat for your ears. You don’t get to go on tour with Radiohead or Money Mark by being an average DJ. Koala is one of the few that truly represent turntablism as an art form.

The transition from DJ to opening act was just like Koala had slipped on a new record as Drums and Tuba went from sound checking over the mix and directly into their performance. This dynamic trio consists of Tony Nazero on the drums, Brian Wolff on tuba and trumpet, and Neal McKeeby on the electric guitar(s). These guys really set it off with their unique blend of sounds and effects and got the crowd bobbing immediately with their contagious energy. They were all over the place with some serious funk, a bit of powerful rock, and a nice touch of a slower spacey vibe, all combining to give the crowd a little taste of everything.

What made this band so interesting and fun to listen to, as well as watch, was the way they turned three instruments into an orchestra of sounds. Nazero kept the group going with some rather impressive percussion while McKeeby and Wolff tweaked their various instruments into doing things that one could only dream of. How often have you seen a phat bass line laid down with a funky tuba loop? Or someone playing two guitars at the same time? A seemingly infinite supply of effects kept the music fresh and brought real depth to the band’s sound.

By the time Drums and Tuba were wrapping up their set the Abbey had really filled up with a sizeable crowd that really seemed to be enjoying the show. The group ended their set with a climactic and awe-inspiring final number, "Clashing" that pushed the crowd over the edge. These guys really gave an energetic and incredible performance that was truly entertaining and they definitely got things heated up for the headliner.

While Bullfrog went about setting up their equipment the crowd was treated to yet another Kid Koala set. As I was trying to figure out where I had heard the beat he was playing I heard some one behind me ask, "Isn’t that 'Shout' by Tears for Fears?" I told you this guy was all over the place. Koala kept the crowd warm with his turntable stylings for a bit longer and then the Bullfrog experience commenced.

Even at the first look at the band, you could tell that you were in for a real treat. There was a drum kit as well as an additional percussion setup, bass, electric guitar, and of course Koala’s three-turntable arrangement. With all this, we were virtually guaranteed an interesting and multidimensional sound.

The band, consisting of Mark Robertson (guitar/vocals), Peter Santiago (bass), Joanna Peters (percussion/vocals), Massimo Sansalone (drums), James Sobers (MC), and Kid Koala (turntables) really got the crowd moving with their unique blend of funk, hip hop, and just all out jams. The music had a rather distinct hip hop feel that was stimulated by both Sobers’ rhyming and Koala’s turntable skills, but often mingled with touches of reggae or latin grooves and of course that funky and rather addictive improv vibe.

If the instrumentation provided by the band wasn’t enough to entertain the crowd by itself, then the addition of Sobers’ clever and poignant rhymes really sealed the deal. The song "Reverse Psychology" for example, urged the nearly frenzied crowd to "put your hands down," to no avail, as they were just too into the music. In addition to Sobers, the complementing vocals of Robertson and Peters really gave the show an added dimension that gave Bullfrog a truly unique and distinct sound.

The percussion team of Peters and Sansalone worked as if under the control of a single being and came together to set a spectacular rhythmic tone as the rest of the band worked their magic. Koala provided the band with a unique feel with a DJ performance in concert with a great live band. The masterful lead guitar work by Robertson and funky bass stylings of Santiago provided the crowd with a jaw-dropping performance that made the evening’s musical treat a memorable one.

During one particularly funky instrumental jam session the ecstatic Sobers claimed, "That’s that funk right there." My sentiments exactly. I hope to catch Bullfrog again as soon as possible and I found myself leaving with a copy of their new album just in case it isn’t soon enough.

Sean Orr
JamBase | Chi-Town
Go See Live Music!
[Published on: 3/4/02]

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