Kobo Town Scene Bell, Montreal QC, June 30
Published Jul 02, 2013Kobo Town have been riding a wave of acclaim heading into the Montreal Jazz Festival. Their latest album Jumbie in the Jukebox was #1 on world music charts and was Long Listed for the Polaris Music Prize. This kind of gig is the sort of A-list festival appearance that results from such success. They've revamped their lineup in recent years, but the personality of singer/guitarist Drew Gonsalves remains paramount. He's a real original in Canada, not a conventionally powerful singer, he uses the method of eloquent calypsonians to deliver vivid and artful tales of modern Trinidadian life in the islands and in the diaspora, including much pointed critique. He certainly doesn't look the part of rebel but he plays rebel music, which may have seemed to be a disconnect to the crowd who were predominantly unfamiliar in the sly wordplay so important to the group's sound.
The band entered without saying a word to the crowd, then launched into "Mr Monday" from the recent record. Unlike the record, which is marked by a heavy hand on the production, this was a full-bodied, tight band with great arrangements and excellent playing. The drummer was phenomenal, precise but intricate, and the horn section was also very accomplished, with sweet calypso unison giving way to avant-jazz soloing. Nevertheless, the crowd wasn't quite buying it: they needed a way into the music due to the language. So when Gonsalves called for a good old fashioned Trini jump up, people did so by the hundreds. This pogo-on-demand tactic got blood pumping and helped goose the energy level. Although the crowd never fully embraced the band, a positive impression was definitely made. I'm convinced that what Kobo Town needs to do is stick with it for a few years and let their complex sound sink in with Canadians and audiences' warmth will be forthcoming.