Crown Royals | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The fate of pure funk in the postfusion era has been rather gruesome. Jazz-funk figureheads like drummer Billy Cobham and bassist Jaco Pastorius gave the verb "to funk" new meaning: their pyrotechnic excesses called forth a solipsistic cult of speed, flash, and technique for technique's sake. But at one time funk was a minimalist art. Rhythms introduced by James Brown weren't show-offy, but kept the joint moving by setting up expected rhythmic emphases and then leaving something out. The band that took this tactic to its pinnacle was the Crescent City's terse foursome the Meters, with the brilliant drummer Zigaboo Modeliste. Unfortunately anyone who saw the Meters on their recent reunion tour knows that they, too, have been bitten by that cruel fusion bug. So now it's up to Chicago's Crown Royals to pick up the pieces. With the exact same members as the raw-power garage-rock group the Waste Kings, the Crown Royals are as true an instrumental funk band as you could ask for. Catch them at one of their Bluebird appearances the last Sunday of every month, and you'll find yourself racking your brain trying to remember which Meters tune they're playing, when in fact most of what they play is their own (their titles even bear the mark of the Meters: "Tipsy Pimp," "Chicken Wire," "Slip Knot"). When the Crown Royals turn to covers, their taste is impeccable: JB's, Charles Wright and the 103rd Street Rhythm Band, and super obscure gems from the library of unknown funk. Drummer Jeff BBQ has an exquisite, spare touch; guitarist Pete Nathan and bassist Mark Blade reel off lean, mean riffs; tenor saxophonist Ken Vandermark gives the proceedings the swank bump and grind of music to strip by. Be the first on your block to dig the new old funk. Sunday, 9:30 PM, Bluebird Lounge, 1637 N. Clybourn; 642-3449.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Marty Perez.

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