When I found out that The Congregation were going to have their record release show at Martyrs, I was shocked. This is the same band who spent the summer playing opening sets for Wilco, The Flaming Lips and Garbage. I won’t complain, because our time is limited to see them play in small venues. I’ll jump at every chance they give us. It doesn’t hurt that their new record, Right Now Everything, is a stunner.
I’ve been pretty consistent in my praise for the band, but I never really got to see them play a full set before. I’ve caught pieces of shows, and I’ve seen them play opening sets, but never a headlining slot where the night was just for them. In the short shows I’ve heard, The Congregation has proved to be one of the finest live acts to come out of Chicago in quite some time. On Friday night they proved that their sights are set well beyond the Windy City.
The openers did a nice job of getting the crowd prepared. The Sometimes Family kicked off the night, and their set was ok. Musically I thought they were pretty strong, but the vocals felt way off. The harmonies weren’t even close in some cases, but their jams were funky and when they weren’t singing I thought they were great. The Shams Band played next, and I’m on record as being a fan. The crowd was a bit timid during these openers, and I was standing next to the stage alone during The Shams while everyone else stood about ten feet back.
When The Congregation took the stage just before 11pm, the audience gathered some courage and took a few feet forward. It didn’t take more than a thirty seconds before everyone in the front row was dancing and grooving with the music. The octet wasted no time finding their pace, as Charlie Wayne’s guitar wailed and the horn section screamed behind Gina Bloom’s powerhouse vocals.
The set lasted over 2 hours, with the band covering all of their recorded material. The highlights for me were mostly from the new album: “You Need My Love” was an absolute scorcher with everyone in the band killing it. Bloom’s vocals took center stage on that one, but on “You’ll Always Be Alright With Me” the horns get the spotlight. Brian Crane (trumpet), Nick Nottoli (trombone), and Erik Eiseman (sax) all performed their parts on point all night, with Eiseman shining particularly bright.
A big surprise came during the encore when the band’s set list finished out and they started taking requests from the audience. “Little Sister” off of their debut EP was one, and “High Class” from the new album was played. They were asked to feature the horns some more, and then they brought out the big guns with a cover of The Beatles “Hey Jude.” I couldn’t think of a better way to close out a fantastic evening of music. Everyone in the audience was swaying back and forth, shouting out “Na na na na nananana” along with those on stage.
I can’t urge you enough to make a point of seeing The Congregation play live. Even if you don’t fancy yourself a big blues or soul music fan, I have a feeling they’ll change your mind. In the meantime you can pick up Right Now Everything on their bandcamp page. If you like it, check out their EP Not For Sleepin’ as well.
For more photos from The Congregation’s Record Release Show, check out the album on our Facebook page.