Kung Fu, n8 and Friends & Fabulous Party Boys 1.30.16

Nectar Lounge
Seattle, WA

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By J. Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)

Kung Fu made their Seattle headlining debut on a chilly Saturday evening at Fremont’s intimate Nectar Lounge. After years of hearing overwhelmingly positive reviews of the band, I was ecstatic for my first chance to verify in-person just how well they could stand up to the talk. The venue filled out nicely during the fun opening sets by local acts N8 and Friends (ft. members of the Polyrhythmics) and the Fabulous Party Boys, and Kung Fu took the stage to a wide-eyed crowd of curious fans, excited to see what they had to offer.

From the opening track, “Chin Music,” saxophonist Robert Somerville jumped out to the front of the mix. He is a smooth and agile player, and this song sees him in the driver’s seat. As a guitarist, I was immediately drawn to pay close attention to Tim Palmieri’s impeccable technique. Just watching him hold the guitar was a game-changer. His fingers arch perfectly no matter what angle he is attacking from, and he achieves a remarkably consistent sound across a wide range of playing styles. I had previously been impressed with some of his acoustic covers and interviews on YouTube (this in particular), but watching him onstage took my admiration to the next level. His right hand technique, was consistently innovative throughout the performance, even without much fingerpicking going on. His strumming over-the-fretboard engenders an amazing level of control over his dynamics, and reminded me a lot of Tom Hamilton.

As the band worked their way into “Daddy D,” bassist Chris DeAngelis began to steal the show. This tune is a tribute to Toronto Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and features heavy syncopation that throws off dancers the same way a knuckleball throws off a hitter. DeAngelis had his soupy tone dialed in perfectly, and his chops rapidly became evident with the song’s active bassline. This song hooked the crowd with its smooth groove, and the band never looked back.

“Paragon” began with Palmieri briefly teasing Jimi Hendrix, before leading the band into a cover of the first verse of Nirvana’s “Drain You.” This was a nice touch to the setlist, but I didn’t mind when it was aborted early for the country-sounding opening lick of “Paragon.” This track was characterized by twangy guitar licks, and included a nice electronica jam featuring keyboardist Beau Sasser’s first chance to get going on synthesizer. Though he is not Todd Stoops, Sasser is an extreme talent in his own right, who seems like a better fit for what the band needs. Drummer Adrian Tramantano also got to show off a bit here. Although his stature may be small, he plays the drums with the force of a giant beast. His fills and dynamics were my two favorite parts of his playing.

“Hollywood Kisses” featured more bass-driven funk and entertaining lyrics from Somerville (a refrain of “We go insane!”). The next track, “Joyride” was a new one that fantastically showcased the diversity of their recent songwriting. This driving funk-tronica banger features the band at their most energetic. Sasser got an extended block in which to stretch his legs on synthesizer, with the band grooving heavily behind him. His synth tone is reminiscent of Ultraviolet Hippopotamus’s Dave Sanders playing on the studio version of their song “The Marine”, which is one of the best compliments I have to offer a synth player. Sasser is a capable soloist, but also uses his Moog to weave dual-leads with Palmieri’s guitar, or to add that extra kick to what DeAngelis is doing on bass. Their seamless livetronica integration is an aspect of the band I was not expecting, and it did a lot to help them stand out within the crowded jam-funk genre. Prolific talent is one thing, but unique utilization of your talent is what gets you to the next level.

Out of the electronica madness, a cover of Gary Numan’s “Cars” emerged. This transition literally dropped jaws around the room. This quintessential 80’s cover was treated very progressively, with the band venturing back into “Joyride” before briefly reprising “Cars” to the crowd’s delight. This portion of the show was an utter tour-de-force, with each member of the band demonstrating instrumental prowess on a level most people could never dream of.

“S’all Good” began with a ripping organ solo from Sasser, which saw him lock into a powerful groove with Tramantano towards the end. As he deftly worked the organ, he provided a moving bassline on his Moog rather than using the organ footboard. The rest of the band slowly joined in, creating a groovy dub sound to complement the organ. “Scrab” followed, with its jittery bassline setting the perfect stage for Somerville to take over and belt out his sax line. This was a great song for the set-closer position because it kept up the energy without being as intense or bombastic as some of their other tunes.

They saved a serious bombshell for the encore, launching into a cover of neo-soul posterchild Thundercat’s “Oh Sheit, It’s X!” This cover idea came from DeAngelis, who accomplished the impossible task of adding extra funk to a Thundercat bassline. Sasser masterfully handled the vocals while playing clavs and synthesizer. I was absolutely stunned to see a band cover Thundercat’s music for the first time in a live setting, and it could not have gone better. They used the last song, “Samurai,” to return to the explosive, lethal brand of funk you might expect to close out a great performance.

I am so happy to have finally seen Kung Fu perform. They seriously lived up to the massive hype I had been hearing from friends in the Northeast for years. Their members are massively talented in the same way as groups like Dopapod and Turkuaz, but with a unique style that adds jam and electronica elements into the standard funk show. These guys will be fixtures in the scene for many years to come, and I look forward to watching them continue to push the envelope with their live performances.

Setlist: Chin Music, Daddy D, Get Down, Paragon&, Hollywood Kisses, Joyride > Cars@ > Joyride, S’all Good, Scrab

Encore: Oh Sheit, It’s X!*, Samurai

& With ”Drain You” tease
@ Gary Numan Cover
* Thundercat Cover

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