chaka Khan brings funk euphoria to her npr tiny desk concert

chaka Khan brings funk euphoria to her npr tiny desk concert

Maybe it’s just me, but I think Gen Z needs to be more aware of the countless R&B and funk superstars from the 70s and 80s. A lot of these artists just seem to be overshadowed by larger artists like Michael Jackson, Prince, or Stevie Wonder. I love the music of those three too, but there’s so much great music that needs to be rediscovered and praised as classics. One of these artists is Chaka Khan, known as the “Queen of Funk” and has multiple hits with both her band Rufus and her solo career. She still has a large following, but only a handful of her biggest hits have reached younger audiences. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, I can’t recommend her Tiny Desk Concert performed last week at NPR enough as a starting point. 

For those that don’t know, Tiny Desk Concerts are performances held in NPR’s headquarters in DC. What separates them from just a normal concert is that all the musicians and equipment must be able to fit behind the desk where NPR’s weekly podcast “All Songs Considered” gets recorded. That means all the musicians get squeezed just inches apart from each other in an office space. If it sounds awkward, that’s the fun of it! With the audience only a small group of NPR employees right next to the space, it makes the concerts more intimate, up-close, and personal. The limited room makes the music fully center stage instead of surrounding it with other stage effects and unnecessary parts of a more corporate concert performance. Really, just think of Tiny Desk Concerts as a late millennial/Gen Z version of MTV Unplugged except less pretentious and not entirely acoustic. 

Despite the tight space that Chaka Khan and her band have, what’s even tighter are the nonstop grooves and funk rhythms they play for their 30-minute show. (Was that clever writing? I thought it was.) The entire time I was listening to it, I couldn’t stop dancing, swaying, and moving to the music. Chaka’s backing band that accompanies her is absolutely on fire, with the funk starting immediately and never letting up. My favorites were the percussion, shakers, and sparkly chimes, as well as the bass playing. If I had one tiny criticism, it would be that a synthesizer is used to replicate horns and orchestrations, even if a lot of classic synth-funk did that as well. However, it still sounds serviceable (even great during the closing songs), and I doubt they could fit anyone else with the limited space they had.

The concert set list is a collection of seven singles from both her solo career and time with Rufus, spanning from 1974 to 1985, with the most famous singles being at the very end. Okay, let’s talk about Chaka Khan herself during this show. You would never believe that she’s 71 years old because she looks and sounds fantastic. Her energy is loose and fun, her singing hits the high notes with ease, and she sounds almost identical to the original studio recordings. Just as good as her are her backing vocalists, who get moments of their own to shine (see Tiffany Smith getting a solo to show off her pipes on “Sweet Thing”). The onstage chemistry between Chaka, the backing vocalists, and the band is always apparent during the show.

Like many Tiny Desk Concerts, part of the fun is also the interactions between the band and the crowd. A show highlight was Chaka letting the NPR audience sing several verses on their own during “Sweet Thing”, and it’s adorable hearing the enthusiasm and love for the music from the crowd. By the time the show closes with “I’m Every Woman”, it’s impossible for anyone on stage (or yourself, for that matter) to keep a smile off their face. Chaka Khan’s Tiny Desk Concert is nothing but delightful, and a victory lap for a monumental artist.

pom pom squad is, indeed, not hanson at boulevardia

pom pom squad is, indeed, not hanson at boulevardia

Every Father’s Day weekend – for years now – Boulevardia has taken over a crucial area of Kansas City, bringing the best taps, tastes, and tunes to the metropolitan area. (And region, if we are being honest.) The relocation to Crown Center a handful of years ago made the festival a little more central — though no less sweltering hot.

I arrived later on Friday, making it a point to get there in time to see Pom Pom Squad. Frontwoman Mia Berrin introduced the band as Hanson – who was coming up next on the Visit Missouri main stage – and then proceeded to rip our faces off. Berrin’s dynamic vocals serenaded us through a breezy, hot Midwest sunset. A few fun photos below.

Keep up with Pom Pom Squad here.

the video for “swallow” by liily gives us a shot of the cortisone the song seeks

the video for “swallow” by liily gives us a shot of the cortisone the song seeks

Considering the band members that comprise psych-tinged alt-rock quartet Liily – Dylan Nash (Frontman), Sam De La Torre (Guitarist), Charlie Anastasis (Bassist), and Maxx Morando (Drummer) – are all artistic in a variety of ways, it comes as no surprise that the video for single “Swallow” off their fresh drop Liily was so fully ideated and realized by the band, who directed it. The song – which is very specifically about their disdain for trauma porn – is, according to the band, “a pretty simple rock tune, we wanted to keep it straight forward along with the rest of the EP, no bells and whistles! We saw it as our chance to be musical vs over-intellectualizing something that is meat and potatoes.”

About the composition, they are correct. A little bit of a dirty edge to it, with a steady rhythm most can get into, the song is more catchy than one would assume when they think of the subject matter. With both vocals and a video that are sprinkled with the stereotypical bored demeanor of a true rock outfit, the build of energy in the song is almost unexpected, but equally welcoming.

“Swallow” was shot by members of Liily in 2022 with a little help from Keegan James Hurley, Justin Billings, and Andie Jane. Guitarist Sam De La Torre edited it, giving it an admittedly engaging finish.

grlztoy’s “green!” EP shows the versatility of an uber-talented new indie band

grlztoy’s “green!” EP shows the versatility of an uber-talented new indie band

Another band I’ve seen pop up in my socials a bunch is the band grlztoy of the DMV area, made up of Theo Zamani (lead vocals, guitar) and Molly Izer (drums). Their EP green!, released last June, is an assured and confident debut I think is worth listening to for anyone into indie pop/rock.

For a release that’s only 12 minutes long, grlztoy easily establishes themselves with just six tracks. The opener, the title song, is only a minute long but still establishes a calming, slightly psychedelic mood through the guitars and slightly echoed drums. It’s ultimately just an intro to the EP, but it still feels complete. Each song carries the same vibe established in the intro title track, creating a hazy, colorful, summer night atmosphere. 

The next three songs, “spring (untied shoes)”, “say when”, and “wavelength” are all a showcase to both members’ talents. Throughout the album, Theo’s singing is wonderful, clearly inspired by both a lot of 90s and 2010s indie singers, but she still almost equals those obvious influences in her abilities. Her voice is sweet and soft, but is still expressive when it needs to be. She carries a song like “say when” by sounding sweet and romantic in a way that’s earnest and never anything but genuine. Molly’s drumming is also consistently great, giving each song a fun, up-tempo groove. Her style varies neatly from cozy indie rock (“teenage dirtbag”), sort of bluesy (“keychain piano”), to garage power pop (the totally killer “wavelength”). 

Admittedly, the band is still very new and occasionally some songs could use more substance (ex. “keychain piano” being clearly a mess-about band jam but still entertaining) or space to breathe. Still, despite having room to grow, green! is a kind of first release that makes you excited to see where the band will go next.

goose jams kansas city’s faces off at the midland

goose jams kansas city’s faces off at the midland

If you didn’t know who Goose was already, then you could have gotten the full run-down from any man found within a 4 block radius of The Midland on Tuesday evening. “Do you know who Goose is?” a man in a gray tie dyed shirt excitedly asked me as I walked up to the box office to nab my photo pass. “Yes, I’m photographing them.” (And I do know their music. And they’re fantastic.) “Oh.”

But I didn’t have to worry about taking this man’s shine for too long. Almost immediately, he turned to a woman walking from the other direction and excitedly asked, “Do you know who Goose is?” She didn’t, and he was aghast. Immediately he launched into a tale about a young jam band that he and his friends championed from the beginning. I laughed at her expression, got my pass, and went inside.

But that’s what Goose does – they fire up the crowd. They are, in essence, a feel good band with an open, excitable fan base. Walking in, it felt like I was headed to camp. Everyone was complimenting each other’s shirts and looks, asking about strangers’ favorite songs, taking photos with signs and posters.

And that’s another thing… I’ve never seen so many banners and posters in this venue before. I’ve never felt the nostalgia of summer camp inside a venue in Kansas City. In my life. And I’m a native.

That was the vibe they brought. With an enchanting stage set, some quirky accessories (hello stuffed Luigi on a keyboard), and a crowd that was ready to be best friends, Goose brought everyone together on a perfect 70 something degree evening in the midwest.

space fish’s “ringtone” is impressive for a band still finding themselves

space fish’s “ringtone” is impressive for a band still finding themselves

Part of the fun of having a job like this is being able to write about tiny local bands you know personally or might have a friend or two in. It gives you the opportunity to give their work some exposure and you also get to count it as part of your hours. This brings me to Newport News’ own indie rock band Space Fish (or “Spish” for short), who recently released their new single “Ringtone”, which came out just this April. 

The band comprises Alex Arena (lead guitarist/vocalist), Joey Bartoo (rhythm guitar), Kemari Effiong (keyboards, backup vocalist), Lauren Tudahl (bass), and Matthew Conner (drums), each of whom met while studying at Christopher Newport University. They have been releasing music since 2020, with “Ringtone” being their third single after 2020’s “It’s Never the Same” and 2021’s “The Warm Up Legend”.

In a way, “Ringtone” is a new beginning for the band as it’s the first single with its current lineup. With two years between this single and the previous one, there are immediate signs of improvement. The lead vocals are stronger and more confident, the already strong guitar work is even better, and it just has a fuller sound overall with clearer bass and drum fills. Space Fish’s sound was already built out of folk and indie rock, and here it’s a perfect blend as a focus on driving guitars and drums doesn’t overpower the emotions and confessional storytelling present in the lyrics.

It’s a good song, especially for a young band still finding their voice. As of now, the band is working on a new single and eventually plan to release an EP containing “Ringtone” and other new tracks.