Like for many, Kongos exited my music radar post their hit ‘Come with Me Now’, a la 2011. Wow I feel old. The certified platinum single gave the world a first taste of their foot-thumping power rock with the novelty of an accordion. Unsurprisingly, the follow up Egomaniac didn’t replicate those peaks. The band opted to take full control of its affairs, by self-releasing the latest 1929 pt 1, first of three albums to be released in the next 18 months that has the band exploring all kinds of new sounds. Does this translate to un-formulaic ingenuity or sonic hodgepodge? Me and few hundred others braved the sub-zero temperature on Friday night to find out for ourselves.
Couple of songs in, the multi-instrumental Kenny Carkeet of Fitness preached, “its okay to be weird. Embrace it”. The remaining 45 min set had the same abrasive yet endearing energy. Everything about the band screamed middle finger to the establishment. Be it the band name (worst band name to search on the internet) or words like ‘The record industry can suck a dick’ (Get Dead), the LA based duo’s carefree nature was infectious. The nearly packed house was buying what they were selling, and what they were selling was some damn good quirky & ‘in-your-face’ synthpop! Given Kongos’ struggles with freeing from shackles of the industry, the unrestrained Fitness was the perfect choice for an opener.
I am not well versed with economics of being in a band. But, as a fan, intimate shows are a win in my books. To me, the Kongos playing at the smaller Lee’s Palace this time compared to their previous outing at Danforth didn’t seem like a step down. Instead, it felt as if the South African sibling foursome were playing just for the faithful few. The first part of the set was dominated by songs from the week old release, 1929 pt1. Songs like ‘Something New’, I Am Not Me’ or ‘Keep Your Head’ were clear examples of the band’s departure from trademark compositions to a more stripped-back melancholic sound.
In other words, the accordion took a backseat during the newer stuff.
But, the accordion made a comeback during old goodies like ‘Take it From Me’, ‘I Want to Know’, ‘Come with Me Now’ and the set closer ‘I’m Only Joking’. This should have appeased those who were just there for the hits.
At the end of the day, the Kongos are gifted songwriters and talented live musicians. Free from the constrains of the biz, the brothers have the freedom to craft a space of their own in the world of modern rock instead of being another clone fit for alt-rock radio. Based on the thunderous roars at the end of set on Friday night, it is safe to say, Toronto is happy to be along for the ride.