I really looked forward to seeing KONGOS at the Fine Line Monday after getting to know the four Kongos brothers (Johnny, Jesse, Dylan, and Danny) and crew so well from watching their Bus Call series on YouTube. Fans that have been keeping up with the Kongos on Bus Call likely feel part of the family after witnessing so many backstage and bus dialogues. With their latest album 1929: Part 1 released just three days earlier, this also offered a great chance to hear many of their new songs from the album beyond the excerpts used on the series. The KONGOS 1929 Tour was launched on January in San Francisco and made its way across Western Canada to Winnipeg before turning south towards slightly warmer climate in the states. Air temp was 31 below zero when they crossed the border. Brrrrrrr! At least they adjusted merch prices back down from their $5 higher Canadian prices.
The band Fitness opened for KONGOS. “You guys are the most fun that we’ve toured with,” said Dylan Kongos. “But we’re only a week in, so we’ll see where that goes,” he joked. With KONGOS now based in LA they got to know the duo of Max Collins and Kenny Carkeet and touring together seems to be going great so far. Towering frontman Max takes “lead singer with an attitude” to a new level with his blond mohawk, blue smock, and dark shades. You may recognize Max from his days as lead singer of Eve 6. “Kenny plays everything …… except lead singer,” proclaimed Max. It’s true Kenny handles the guitar, keyboard, as well as the synths, samples, loops and related effects like he did as a key member of AWOLNATION. He also handles the smiling and jumping around part pretty well. Ben Hilzinger does handle the drums though.
Their music could be called electro-pop-rock as they use recorded supporting tracks and add to that the live guitar, keys, drums, and vocals. After playing “Kill the Rich” from their latest album Karate, Max asked the crowd to make sure to find them on social media. But their name Fitness was taken so the domain they are using is simply that, fitnesswastaken.com. My favorite song they played was “Good Bad Time” which Max said was about accepting your inner demons. It really had a catchy guitar riff and Kenny with his infectious smile got the crowd to get their hands up for that one. After listening to it about ten more times in the car, definitely my favorite track!
Max told the crowd they were from LA but not to hold that against them. He announced that his brother was here tonight and his parents moved to Minneapolis four years ago. That may be enough for Twin Citizens to claim him as one of our own. If Kenny didn’t have enough energy so far, he sure did during “Get Dead” when he ran up and down the stairs before kneeling at his sound board to play with the effects like it was a new Christmas present. If you missed Fitness, I recommend checking out the lyric video for “Get Dead” to get a good feel for their music and sense of humor.
When Kenny asked why it got so quiet between songs, Max explained, “They’re Minnesota nice. It means they’re polite and nice on the exterior, but just beneath is a boiling rage.” “Matter of Time” highlighted what great musicians they are when boiled down to simply Kenny’s guitar and Max’s singing. While that was cool, even better was when Max invited his friend Justin Sharbono up to the stage to play bass on their cover of The Fly’s “Got You Where I Want You” (Caution: that song is stuck in your head material.) Justin was guitarist in Soul Asylum from 2012-2016 and now is in the Twin Cities’ band Oklahoma with his brother, so look for them around town. Since Justin is a left-handed guitarist, this created a dilemma. Using elite problem-solving skills, he flipped the bass upside for the fun song the crowd could not resist singing along to. With a few of the Kongos brothers watching from behind stage, Kenny said this is the part of the show where we have one more song and then it’s time for us to go. Before doing so, Kenny asked if we were excited to see KONGOS and got the crowd to chant “Kongos” bam, bam, bam “Kongos” many times and thus earning more brownie points with their tourmates.
On that note, KONGOS continued their set with a pair from 2016’s Egomaniac. First “The World Would Run Better” with its higher energy pop flavor. The youngest of the four Kongos brothers, guitarist Danny, sang this one from the far side of the stage against the brick wall of the Fine Line. Heavy rhythm again started the next offering which was the opening track from that album, “Take It From Me,” with drummer Jesse handling vocals. Although Kongos is ethnically Greek, the brothers grew up in South Africa which certainly influenced the sound that they have developed as their own.
After the opening trio of songs, the crowd roared as Jesse said, “Hey Minneapolis! We are so happy to be back. Welcome to the 1929 party. We’re going to play another one from our new album.” Dylan, on bass, sang the slower “When You’re Here” with loud rim shots from Jesse on the drums.
Lest we not forget the eldest Kongos brother, Johnny, whose accordion playing also gives KONGOS its unique sound. He was featured with a long solo in the next song “Take Me Back” from Lunatic. Jumping back to the new album it was Danny telling listeners to keep your headphone on in “Keep Your Head” followed by “Something New,” the lead track from Part 1, with its synth track, peppy vocals, and accordion garnishes.
It sure seemed like everyone recognized “Underground” or quickly caught on to its catchy chorus “Whoaohhh….Whaoooo.” With the crowd already singing along as Jesse got them clapping too. Next “Stand Up” from the new album started in complete dark with its Mexican-Caribbean vibe inviting even introverts to some unintentional salsa dancing and thoughts of shouting “Arriba!”
Jesse took a break to ask how many in the crowd have seen Bus Call. With only a fraction affirming, Jesse explained that the band has released eight episodes of their documentary Bus Call on YouTube. Bus call is the term they use when it’s time for everyone to be back on the bus, usually around 1 or 2am when departing for the next tour city. The band is trying to get the word out and I would strongly encourage you to watch this for a rare look at what life on tour is like for bands like KONGOS. Boy was it cool to see the band live in concert after catching the many little snippets of shows around the world. Trust me, you will get to know the band and crew very well. It’s must-see TV. If you even want to dive even deeper, you can also enjoy 38 weekly podcasts called The Front Lounge with KONGOS HERE.
The crowd enjoyed “I Don’t Mind” but then went absolutely bonkers when they recognized the start of KONGOS mega-hit “Come With Me Now.” You all know it. Enough said! The band kept momentum going with another popular song from Lunatic, the mid-tempo “I Want To Know,” which got hands waving back and forth. Fans then enjoyed what was intended to be the last song, their new single “Pay for the Weekend.” Realizing they missed playing it, they added one more one-more-song which was the fun “Birds Do It.” Johnny sang this one and the band jumped around on stage as wild as they had all night proving this was probably the better closer. Respecting our work schedules, the band took one of the briefest encore breaks in history but made it authentic by drummer Jesse carrying his shoes with him as the brothers closed the side-stage door behind them. They immediately re-opened the door and ran back on stage (still carrying shoes) with the explanation, “It’s Monday Night. We should just get on with it.”
Before beginning the encore set, they made sure to let the crowd know something that is very important to them, “We are now independent. It took a long time to get out of our record deal and we are proud of this. We are going to do a fun sing along song.” It was a cover of “Eleanor Rigby” that featured a crew member you will recognize from Bus Call. It was Mo, the shorter guy that was wearing his usual Yankees stocking cap as he came on stage and found a mic. Mo impressed the crowd by taking the Beatles song on a lengthy rap before exiting to wild cheers and high fives from fellow crew members. They could not have picked a better closing song than “I’m Only Joking” as it is the first KONGOS song I remember hearing and still love its unusual thundering rhythm and line “I’m just a f…ing with your head.” The band exited stage after saying, “Minneapolis, you make it easy to come back again!”
Leaving the concert I made sure to walk past KONGOS tour bus to see if I would happen to run into the band. I could not help but wonder if the band was already inside relaxing after the show or was out carousing until bus call at 1am. I wish I could have hung around to find out.
I Am Not Me
The World Would Run Better
Take It From Me
When You’re Here
Take Me Back
Keep Your Head
Hey I Don’t Know
I Don’t Mind
Come With Me Now
I Want to Know
Pay for the Weekend
Birds Do It
Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles cover)
I’m Only Joking