SAN FRANCISCO — Judging by the stories the four brothers of Kongos told at the Great American Music Hall on Tuesday, the first night of their first tour in more than a year, they’re just now rebuilding following a tumultuous couple of years.
“We finally left our label. This was good news,” singer-guitarist Daniel Kongos said midway through the tour-opening show. “We were at a point of, just, ‘fuck this business.'”
The brief aside, to which Dylan Kongos (bass, guitar), Jesse Kongos (drums) and Johnny Kongos (accordion, keyboards) nodded, was followed by one of a handful of new songs the band has been working on and which are expected to appear on its forthcoming fourth album, 1929.
“Everything Must Go” was a loud-quiet-loud song, with rock opera movements that diverged from Kongos’ meat and potatoes blues rock. It, and the other new songs showed more range by the band than anything since making some waves in the U.S. with “Come With Me Now” in 2014.
After opening with “I Am Not Me,” which was a characteristically thumping blues rock track, the band performed “The World Would Run Better,” off its 2016 album, Egomaniac. The song coalesced into a danceable four-on-the-floor beat. The brothers took turns singing lead, with Jesse Kongos handling primary vocal duties from his drum kit on “Take It From Me,” another Egomaniac cut. This song, and most others on which Johnny Kongos played the accordion, had a vaguely Eastern European inflection. The mid tempo tune featured a slide guitar part that carried the tune into blues territory.
At this point, Daniel Kongos acknowledged the first night of the band’s tour, mentioned what he and his brothers have coming next, and began playing new song “When You’re Here,” a downtempo ballad with some guitar and piano noodling. It was likely pretty easy for most in the room to tell when the band switched to older material, which was generally standard blues rock with bits of rootsy Americana thrown in, as it was on slow-burner “Take Me Back,” as well as “Underground.”
The newer material, like the jazzy meditative number “Real Life,” had more nuance and variation. While “Come With Me Now” may have gotten the loudest cheers of the night, the most fun song was clearly new tune “Stand Up,” which blended latin dance melodies with an Eastern rhythm. The guitar lines danced around the squeeze box, and the band was suddenly playing music that no one was expecting to hear.
Los Angeles agressive synth-pop trio Fitness opened the show with a fun set of major-chord bangers. The duo is composed of singer Max Collins of Eve 6 and Kenny Carkeet of Awolnation. They were supplanted with a drummer, whose eager use of the cowbell counterbalanced Collins’ machismo. The frontman wore a pair of dark sunglasses that covered not just his eyes but his emotion—he looked intense from start to finish.
Fitness was likely playing one of its first public shows, as about a third of the songs got the introduction of the band playing it for the first time. “Sing” and “Itch” were full of pent-up energy. The third song of the set was more of a throwback ’80s power pop, but it was called “Kill the Rich,” and it was presumably about killing the rich; where the ’80s power pop comparisons ended. “Get Dead” was a full-on dirge, with Collins spelling out the band’s name during the chorus and delivering some screams lines following the bridge.
“It’s hard for me to see the setlist because I’m wearing sunglasses inside and I’m pretty tall. So there’s pretty good distance,” Collins joked toward the end. He and Carkeet soon began to critique their own performances, explaining whether they were horrible.
“I sang that song an octave too high,” Collins would say. The latter part of the set was highlighted by a more earnest vocals and guitar tune called “Matter of Time,” that approached the level of The Killers playing Springsteen, and an off-key but still cover of Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”
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