JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound are one of the Windy City's premiere soul bands.
"It'll be a test of endurance for the staff, that's for sure," says We Are Beatrice guitarist Mike Bacsi. The endurance test he mentions is a nine-hour, five-band stretch of music Bacsi's band leads off at the Frequency on Saturday, Nov. 20. Seven dollars at the door means 78 cents per hour.
The night begins at 5 p.m. with We Are Beatrice's cowpunk country. Then the program swerves across the road to indie rock and fellow Madison act Muscle Car. From there -- and all the way to bar time -- things get soulful, very, compliments of three of Chicago's premiere soul bands: The Right Now, JT and the Clouds and, finally, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, which Mojo calls "a cross between the Chambers Brothers and agit-punks the Make-Up."
It's true, Brooks is a soulful, punk Zelig. "Like Otis Redding fronting the Stooges," he says. While he shuns labels like "neo-soul" he definitely sings with the flavor and feel of Otis Redding. But it's doubtful Otis would have covered Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart."
Brooks says he purposely set out to pick a cover that would be "incongruously not soul and then turn it into something else." He'll actually meet Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy in a couple weeks at a benefit concert and reports that Tweedy has given the cover a "thumbs up." The video version of the song is a gas:
Uptown Sound is a six piece with a swinging horn section, but it's Brooks' vocals that make the band sizzle and soothe. Saturday's card is notable because Brooks, one of the most exciting male singers in Chicago, will be on the same bill as one of the most glorious female soul voices in the Windy City, the Right Now's Stefanie Berecz.
The Right Now's composer/arranger Brendan O'Connell says the band will try out some new songs Saturday, as well as hone live arrangements from its vinyl release, Carry Me Home which was mastered at Stax in Memphis by Larry Nix (Issac Hayes, Al Green). The disc pops with retro soul: horns like fountain-pen strikes on fresh paper, O'Connell's organ, an asylum of emotion. Berecz' voice balances tense restraint with full-out leaps from the roof top.
Sandwiched between the Right Now and JC Brooks, Saturday night, are JT and the Clouds. The Clouds will be a great spoonful of sherbet between courses. Their soul is leaner and more angular than the other Chicagoans'. Madison's Muscle Car was an O'Cayz regular in 1989 and 1990. According to Bacsi, "they have a sweetness to their roar and a soft spot for Brian Wilson song structures."
We Are Beatrice, meanwhile, is the stepson of the popular 1980s Madison band the Weeds, and only plays out a handful of times per year. The group made a run to Door County this fall with the sole purpose of playing a Marshall Tucker Band song for a dishwasher on the job in Ellison Bay. "It was totally worth it," said Bacsi. We Are Beatrice's version of "American Girl" simultaneously pokes Tom Petty in the eye while giving him a hickey.
Brooks says, with a laugh, that people should "dress comfortably." "I sound like I'm holding a dance audition! Come in something you can move in. Come ready to let some shit go."