TJ Kirk, Great American Music Hall, San Francisco- 12/27
For a band that hadn't performed since 1997, West
Coast phenomenon TJ Kirk (a powerhouse line-up of
guitarists Charlie Hunter, Will Bernard and John
Schott and drummer Scott Amendola) generate a lot of
spark. A jazz-funk "cover band" reinventing the music
of Thelonious Monk, James Brown and Rassan Roland Kirk
is certainly unique. But the TJ Kirk name and legend
has survived much longer than the band's actual
duration. Bay Area expatriate Charlie Hunter lends
national credibility yet all four musicians are
regarded in their own right with highly original and
varied solo projects. The band is making good on its
notoriety with the 2004 release of one of its "final"
performances, titled Talking Only Makes It Worse. No
wonder Saturday's hometown gig sold out amidst very
stiff competition in pre-NYE San Francisco.
Given the caliber of musicians you might expect a
full-on guitar slaughter with intense drums. True. But
the show was more a groovy and joyous ride through a
vivid landscape of jazz, blues and funk, punctuated by
a taste of Beethoven, a heavy metal medley and other
playful touches. The first set started off on a strong
note and allowed the musicians to flex their bluesy
chops with Schott's blues-style guitar and Hunter
taking a turn on vocals. The band displayed its JB
influence mid-set and even showed the gentler side of
TJ Kirk with a lovely version of a Monk ballad
featuring Bernard's fine slide guitar work.
However, the beast fully erupted in the second set
when the band turned Monk on his ear and gave a taste
of what this collective is capable of delivering. More
funk, a bit of a bluegrass-roots turn mid-song, back
to the jazz-groove and on with the fabled fez hats.
During all this Amendola – a fantastic drummer who
makes a strong impact without having to beat the skins
to death – kept it all together behind the kit. The
band wrapped it up with a Kirk composition before
returning for an encore, but only after the baiting
the enthusiastic audience who of course wanted more.
Throughout the show TJ Kirk's signature
tongue-in-cheek humor shone through in the musicians'
fluid exchanges and obvious enjoyment of performing
together, even more so than in their stage antics and
banter, entertaining as that was. There was enough
room for each musician to solo in his own style, and
the overall result was a cohesive song progression
with lively improvisational moments.
An energetic romp through many different genres is a
tactic that's become overdone yet in TJ Kirk's hands
it sounded fresh. The hype around these shows likened
the band to an awakened corpse, but a more fitting
analogy would be a sleeping body that just exhaled
from a deep breath. If TJ Kirk can stay inspired and
not burn out on the requisite music business headaches
(to which band "spokesman" Schott often alluded) then
this hometown reunion run might be more than a one-off
treat for Bay Area fans.