Here’s a way to blow away the January blues – a red-hot bill of funk at the Jazz Café, courtesy of Kings Go Forth. The band released debut album The Outsiders Are Back last year on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label and come straight outta… Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Maybe not the first city you’d think of to bring the funk, but they’ve been simmering since 2007, building word of mouth through regional touring and recording now-sought-after 7′s.
After skilled but underwhelming support from the UK’s Jezebel Sextet, Kings Go Forth play it for real. This is a working band in the classic sense – they have it running through their veins, seeping from their pores, sweating it out onstage night after night. The 9-piece band are dressed in matching white robes, like the Polyphonic Spree performing a Stax soul revue, and centre-stage, two charismatic frontmen: Black Wolf, a bluesman of a certain vintage possessed of a thrilling Curtis falsetto, and husky-voiced Danny Fernandez.
It’s a fully immersive experience that fills the Jazz Café’s compact auditorium and soon the crowd are pulling their best Northern Soul shapes. It’s not a surprise, given the heavy-hitting horns of Paradise Lost, Don’t Take My Shadow’s chase theme wah-wah guitar, or the Temptations-styled psychedelic soul of gospel classic Wade In The Water. The highlight comes with High On Your Love, built on soaring three-part harmonies, the best song the Delfonics never wrote.
The band’s touchstone is clearly Curtis Mayfield, often remembered only for Superfly and Move On Up but whose legacy is so much more than that, and the Kings honour his influence with a cover of the Impressions’ Stay Close To Me. But this is no mere pastiche; while the sound is authentic late 60s/early 70s, it’s brought up to date – like Ozomatli or the Roots – with hip-hop inflected drum breaks and modern production. This was the band’s first foray to London and there’s no doubt that after tonight they’ll want to return. Next time, the Kings won’t be outsiders any more.
By Alex Cottrill