Photo by Dino Perrucci
Con Brio has been of one of the most exciting come-ups of the past year. SInce forming in 2013, the Bay Area band has been a West Coast gem that has dazzled audiences with its blend of soul, R&B and funk and an adrenaline filled live show. The group’s solid Kiss The Sun EP in 2015 and exhaustive tours across the country and Europe set the stage for its breakout album Paradise in 2016.
The lush and vivacious album attracted only more music lovers to the fold and the band saw appearances at festivals like Outside Lands, High Sierra, Mountain Jam and Fuji Rock. Con Brio is flying high and its logical destination in the next couple years somewhere among the stars. But before the band can launch its boosters, you are still able to catch them blow the roof off of tiny joints and clubs across the states. That’s what happened they played for a sold out crowd in Tahoe City, CA at Moe’s BBQ.
The beachside barbeque kicked off with Reno’s Failure Machine. The garage soul band were a barebones outfit of Spencer Kilpatrick on guitar and vocals, Clintonious Philbin on drums and Rachael McElhiney on baritone sax and vocals and were the salty to Con Brio’s sweet. Its set was quick and earnest and warmed up the night with its scruffy version of 1960’s soul. The band had a boozy, charging energy to them and dropped a couple intoxicating hooks on the crowd, none more so than the punchy “Beautiful Scene” off the band’s EP Boy. Kilpatrick sung with a husky sweetness and his singing and playing were the driving force of the band. Failure Machine definitely showed why the need to be invited up to the lake for more barbecue.
With the audience primed, it was ready for Con Brio to come and blast the place off to funky town. Jonathan Kirchner (bass), Andrew Laubacher (drums), Benjamin Andrews (guitar), Brendan Liu (trumpet), Marcus Stephens (tenor sax) and Patrick Glynn (keyboards) lit the fuse with a snappy instrumental interlude before charismatic frontman Ziek McCarter bounded on the stage like a suave firecracker and the whole band exploded into the wah-wah funk of “Liftoff” from Paradise. “Are you ready to fly?” McCarter sung as he bounded across the stage, moving and grooving with glorious aplomb as the crowd wailed its approval. It was clear they were.
When you catch Con Brio live, it’s hard to take your eyes of the shining force of life that is Ziek McCarter. The man sings with supple passion, dances with fervent conviction and dresses to the 9’s every night. He was the quintessential showman and had the crowd wrapped around his little finger all night. The 23-year old’s energy never seemed to drain and he always had a 1000-watt smile plastered on his face as he twirled, spun, kicked and juked to the music all night. McCarter’s greatest asset though was his connection to the sweaty mass of fans in front of him and he noticeably vibed off their energy, getting a high from locking eyes and dance moves with people. He was a bird of paradise full of soul and the crowd was his entranced mate.
While McCarter drew the eyes of the crowd, it was the rest of Con Brio that drew its ears. The band was tight and its infectious rhythms and restless energy were the perfect soundtrack for a night out on the town with endless possibilities. “Money” was an amped swing of hips and hand claps that whipped the crowd into a frenzy and “California Cowboy” was a fist-pumping showstopper that featured a greasy sax solo from Stephens over a crunchy riff from Andrews’ guitar. Taking the crowd on an extended trip they stretched out the disco soul anthem “Kiss The Sun” into a shimmering groove that featured a melt-your-face solo from Andrews and fierce back and forth between Stephens and Liu. Con Brio showed off some musical ingenuity too when they turned Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” into a slow-burning soul scorcher.
Con Brio ended its night with “Never Be The Same,” a tantalizing R&B sizzler off Kiss The Sun that was the first introduction of the band to a wider audience. It struck a chord with the crowd and it lustfully bounced with the band for one more time. It was a perfect cap for the night and expressed how many were feeling after catching the group for the first time that night. For Con Brio, it was another radiant show as it continues to fly off towards the sun, where things will soon never be the same.