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Live Review: JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound at Chicago's Lincoln Hall

By: James Erb
I was already behind schedule. 7:34PM. Show starts in thirty minutes and I'm just getting on the highway. It's monsoon season on I-94, but I won't brake for inclement weather, because I've got to get the word out to you lovely people about a band (which admittedly, at this point, I'd never heard of.) I was frazzled in every way. Chain smoking to calm my nerves. Hydroplaning every ten seconds. Maybe that second cup of coffee wasn't the best idea. Blasting classical music in an attempt to find the slightest hint of calm, but to no avail. By the time I got into the city (despite the feverish efforts of my windshield wipers) the water on my window was so thick that the lines on the road were indistinguishable along with the difference between brake lights and just regular old tail lights. Safety first? I wanted to pull over but I couldn't tell where to pull over to. Eh, for the best I suppose. I'm already late and driving 12MPH in a 50MPH zone, so may as well keep on truckin'. Every so often I would crack a window to trade stale humid cigarette smoke for a face-full of water globs. "This is fun!" I kept telling myself, "Like a log flume that's really fast that you control...or you can die..."

8:26PM. I put the car in park. Breathed a giant sigh of relief. Better late than never. Better stopped than smashing into a barely visible guard rail. But I'm not done yet. I get out and make a run for it, doing my best to stay under awnings, for all it's worth. I stop and ask a man smoking a cigarette, "Excuse me, do you know where Lincoln Hall is?"

"Right there across the street."

Ah, so it is. I dart in front of traffic because cars have a roof and I don't, but the venue does. A very fine roof if I may say so myself. I approach the kiosk. "Hi! I'm James Erb, I may be on the list...if not I'm also...uh...Kyle Kenyon tonight." They gave me my...well, Kyle's press sticker, which I immediately stuck to my wet shirt, which immediately fell off somewhere within the next few minutes. I return to the kiosk. "Hey, you guys haven't seen that sticker you gave me anywhere have you? Wet shirt and whatnot..." No? Well, I tried. They assured me that if anyone was gonna give me trouble about taking pictures, it was them, and they were not. Very cordial guys those two. That's something hard to come by in doormen at Chicago venues. They're usually so hardnosed. It was a pleasant change of pace. Good job Lincoln Hall.

I got there just in time for the main act, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound. You may be wondering, "Were there opening bands?" Probably, and I'm sure they were wonderful, and I wish I could tell you all about them. Alas, I'm sorry to inform you that even in my suicidal stunt car efforts to get there remotely-close-to on time...I didn't. Glad that's settled. Moving on.

So as previously mentioned, I had no idea what to expect out of this band. I didn't have to wait long to find out. It was about two seconds into the opening tune (I believe it was "Rouse Yourself") that a ray of sunshine broke the torrential downpour, and I knew all of the life threatening adventures I'd braved to make it here were about to be worth it. Before I saw it coming, the band sucker punched me in the gut with funk. JC's powerful voice reeled in the souls of the audience, put them through a condenser mic, and blasted them right back into our hearts. Even if he had been speaking pure gibberish, the tone of his voice alone would have kept the crowd mesmerized. Lucky for us it was not gibberish, but heartfelt uplifting lyrics about topics that touch home.

The very animated JC only stopped boogieing to occasionally sit down on a monitor and get personal with the crowd between songs. He would set up a backstory or at the very least set the mood, crack jokes, and inspire the audience for what would come next. Holding a diligently captivating stage presence with an iron grip, his movements mirrored the melodies magnificently. There was reaching his hand out to the crowd with a soul/rhythm n' blues flair from the sixties. Hip shaking funk of the seventies. A dash of new wave and early punk rock from the eighties.  A fantastic cover of Blackstreet's "No Diggity" from the nineties. All this backed with driving drums and bass, rock n' roll guitar and keys, concentrated down into the melting pot genre-fusion at the forefront of music today. Ladies and gentlemen, plain and simple- If JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound doesn't get you up and moving, you must not have feet.

By the end of the show, all the stresses of getting there were long gone, presumably floating off into the city through that roof I was talking about. That roof which was raised, on fire, and that MF'er was let burn. No water necessary. They came back for what would be an obvious encore after a very anti-climatic "OK SEE YOU GUYS LATER!" and a quick step behind the curtain to...take shots or smoke ganja or whatever it is rockstars do during that time. Twenty seconds later, they returned to the stage and jokingly stated "How many people were totally faked out by that?" They played one more song, but honestly I could have gone for about ten more. They've definitely got a new fan and if these words I'm writing have anything to say, even more than that.

Here is my suggestion to you. If you don't like soulful pipes belting words that tug at your heart strings, booty shaking anthems, and over all fun, then you should stay home, because this is what you're sure to receive if you see this band live. If you enjoy all those things previously mentioned, I recommend checking them out at the first opportunity you get to do so. Right now. Do it. If they're not playing near you soon (Which is unlikely considering they're about to do Austin City Limits, a small tour in Europe, and then some more midwest and east coast dates) I recommend picking up their new album called "Howl", or at the very least checking out one of their numerous video's on Youtube. I'm sure you will be impressed.

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