Sonny Knight Brings His Oldschool Soul and Funk Dance Party to Dumbo
This Thursday night, May 14 at around 8 Sonny Knight & the Lakers are bringing a serious oldschool soul/funk party to Brooklyn Bridge Park in Dumbo, and it’s free. They’ve got a new live album out on double gatefold vinyl and streaming at Secret Stash Records‘ site, capturing the kind of blazing energy the veteran soul man brings to the stage. Recorded in in front of an adrenalized audience on the band’s Minneapolis home turf, the group lays down a groove worthy of the Dap-Kings. Although everybody in the band – guitarist Blair Krivanek, bassist Casey O’Brien, drummer Eric Foss, organist Sam Harvey-Carson, tenor saxophonist Cole Pulice, trumpeter Bryan Highhill and trombonist Tony Beaderstadt – is a couple of generations younger than the frontman, they put forward a potent reminder that Minneapolis was kicking out first-class funk back when Prince was in kindergarten.
The show this particular evening opens oldschool style, the band’s punchy brass over the shuffling minor-key organ groove that they’ll stick to for most of the night. Speaking of which, Knight takes the stage to a familiar Led Zep riff and then launches in a split second into Juicy Lucy, a period-perfect 60s-style James Brown funk hit. The singer’s impassioned growl is undiminished, maybe that’s because he’s younger than most of his contemporaries who are still kicking around: Knight was only 17 when recorded the collector favorite Tears on My Pillow in 1965.
This is a dance party, first and foremost, Knight only too glad to serve as emcee. So he and the band vamp on a groove or a hook for five or ten minutes at a clip. Stormy brass and organ fuels Baby Baby Baby; Boogaloo has the latin flavor you’d expect; Get Up & Dance nicks a familiar Edgar Winter riff and then picks up from there. After awhile, it’s as if the upbeat numbers are one long song rather than separate tracks, testament to the band’s ability to keep the pot boiling. But not everything here is fast and bouncy: there’s an absolutely brilliant, creepy, 6/8 noir soul ballad version of the old folk song In the Pines (which some people in the band might have learned from Nirvana: eat your heart out, Kurt Cobain!). There’s also the insistent, imploring, intense, slowly crescendoing It’s You for Me, the warmly gospel-infused When You’re Gone and Knight’s signature ballad, I’m Still Here, all in 6/8 as well. And their cover of Day Tripper works because the famous riff gets switched to the organ, or the horns, while Krivanek sticks to Stax/Volt riffage.
And just when you think you have these guys figured out, they open the slow-burning Sugarman – which is sort of Knight’s Pusherman and the album’s strongest, most dynamic number – with an eerie Ethiopiques horn riff. Lots of fun, familiar flavors, along with some not so familiar, on the water in Brooklyn Thursday night.