The Congress – May 4th – The Bluebird Theatre

Photos by Jim Mimna

The Scene: The Bluebird Theatre was filled with southern charm and a hunger for some rock and roll on Friday night. I see my fair share of music here in Denver, and I experience all kinds of crowds… but something was different about Friday night. Everywhere I turned groups of three or four well dressed and sparkling eyed ladies were drinking, talking, smiling, and looking damn good doing it! I was picking up on a much different vibe then I get at most shows here in Denver. The women were dressed differently, carried themselves differently, and I eventually realized…talked differently. It became evident that I was surrounded by southern women and I had forgotten just how good that makes a man feel!

The Congress may be local, but their roots reach clear across the country. Sometimes we forget that Denver bands have other places they call “home.” For The Congress, their home away from home is the South. They tour the Southeast more than anywhere else, and according to front man Jonathan Meadows, they “have a huge family from Virginia all the way to Mississippi.” Well those folks who saw them back East before moving out West sure are supporting them here in Denver!

The presence of southern charm and demeanor wasn’t just coming from the women in the crowd, but from the band itself. The Congress can get a room moving, and their constant shout outs to other local musicians and their fans made me see why Denver and the rest of the country are eating these guys up.  They are good old boys whose only goal is to steamroll a room with down home rock and roll.

The Congress: As The Congress took the stage, they jubilantly thanked everyone for coming out, and jumped right into “Whatever You Want,” the title track off of the band’s first full-length album, which was released the same day as the show.  A truly powerful power-trio; Jonathan Meadows, Mark Levy and Scott Lane put the pedal to the floor from the first note, and they kept it full throttle all night long. [Editor’s Note: Keyboardist Chris Speasmaker’s of Fox Street All Stars sat in for a good part of the set, and was a great addition!] Nearly all of the songs The Congress played reminded me of vintage rock made for driving fast and drinking hard, but “Reason” sure made me want to do both! Yes, this band will remind you of some amazing bands from the past, but that is simply because good straight forward rock just isn’t heard as much nowadays. By no means are these guys recreating a sound that’s already been heard; they are drawing on the roots of pure rock and giving it a feel all their own.

Rock may be the bands foundation, but “Oh Babe” had bouncy, experimental, and alternative sides to it that really allowed the band to stretch out and explore. This is not a jam band, this is a rock band that can jam. The vintage sound really came through on “Distance,” and I would bet that you could slip that song into a classic rock radio station’s programming and listeners would be calling in wanting to know who that was and why they don’t remember that song from back in the day.

“Echos” featured a stellar drum solo by Levy, and the band completed playing their new album in its entirety. The band was about to play a song off of their EP released a few years ago, and said it would be their last song, but that soon changed. Members of the MTHDS and Kinetix joined The Congress on stage for a rowdy rendition of the Beastie Boys “You Gotta Fight” and we all turned our thoughts to the late Adam Yauch; aka MCA. The Bluebird bounced and sang along as we went ape shit for one of the best party anthems ever recorded.

MCA wasn’t the only musician who passed recently, and Meadows reminded us of that as he dedicated the next song, Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” to both MCA and Levon Helm. [Editor’s Note: Check out Brian Turk’s moving piece on the passing of Levon Helm here] Now, I usually wouldn’t be caught dead singing along to this song in public, but I just couldn’t help it. Meadows voice went from that of a rock powerhouse to one that was soulfully sweet, gentle, and well controlled. Was a rough around the edges and bearded rock front man really doing this song justice? Damn straight he was. The drums and guitar set the pace as myself and my favorite AEG employee hung off of each other, hugged, and sang along like little middle school girls, even though we are grown ass men with beards. We sang for Levon and MCA, but also simply because these guys were actually killing the song!

After ripping through a version of Karate’s “Sever,” the sing-along resumed with Jerry Garcia’s “Sugaree.” The night closed with “Loretta” another song off of their EP, and then that was that. The thing was, it seemed like everyone wanted more. It was already 1am, but people would have gladly stayed for another hour of music. Considering this is the band’s first full length album, I think the crowds wanting more is a good sign of things to come.

Set List: Whatever You Want, Reason, Walls, Keep Virginia, Impatiently, Jonah Gideon, Domestic, 100 Miles, Oh Babe, Fall, Distance, Echoes, Ten Years Gone, Fight For Your Right (w/MTHDS & Adam Lufkin of Kinetix), Killing Me Softly

Encore: Sever, Sugaree, Loretta

Energy: A
Sound: A-
Musicianship: A-
Stage Presence: B+
Set / Light show: B

Overall: A-


Who Is Brian Turk

Brian Turk grew up in the shadow of the Catskill Mountains, near Woodstock, NY. He comes from a family of music lovers, audiopliles, Dead Heads and avid concert goers.The musical magic that can only be created in the Catsklills, both past and present, is what Brian cosiders the epicenter of his music addiction. The music of The Band, and most recently The Levon Helm Band, is the soundtrack of home for him. Brian's mother took him to his first concert at 5years was Johnny Cash and Roseanne Cash at Jones Beach Amphitheatre. For Brian, music is a family affair. He feels the same way about live music...we all convene to celebrate together. Brian's writing life started when he wrote his favorite author, southern fiction writer Clyde Edgerton, a fan letter at age 13. When most kids were idolizing baseball players and television, he was worshipping writers and musicians. The two became friends and Clyde shared his craft with Brian. The next year Brian attended Duke University's Young Writers Camp. This is the extent, of what Brian considers, his “formal” training in writing. From then on his goal was to capture snapshots of life through words. Brian has been involved with live music in various facets over the years, and combined with his enthusiasm and love for Denver's music scene, he creates a vivid description of what he sees and hears. If you see him out at a show, dancing with a notebook in hand, say hello.