By Jason Williams, DC Music Live
If the first time you were smitten by music happen before the dawn of the digital age there is likely a physical tape, vinyl record or dare I say it an 8 track cartridge that reminds you of that moment when everything else was muted and you only heard the music.
Despite my relative youth (32) one of my earliest musical memories is rummaging through my father’s 8 tracks. There I was introduced to supergroups and superstars of yesteryear. There were The Delfonics, Mahalia Jackson and dozens of others. No fancy album artwork on 8 tracks there were two staples on most, a picture of the group and the common title was, Meet The (insert name of the artist). Liner notes, artist thank you’s and lyrics would come into the music buying experience at a later time and that point what they looked like and how they sounded was enough.
The Congress, a four member rock band stationed in Denver with Virginia roots, play a way that is not quite nostalgic, but rather reminiscent of your first deep experience with music. There last two contributions, The Loft Tapes, a selection of 70’s ear soul covers and Whatever You Want that features all original material; have songs that on first listen that you may not catch the choirs or completely get the message but every song offers an undeniable grove. A sonic pocket that without warning envelops you before you know it.
The familiar sounds of The Congress fit perfectly in the broken in atmosphere of Gypsy Sally’s. Technically located in Georgetown, Gypsy Sally’s isn’t off the beat path (despite being located under the Whitehurst Freeway) as much as it is right where it belongs for those that like their pub food with a side of music. The two level bar has two watering holes, ample seating and a decent stage. It’s the kind of place where security is needed for regulation compliance and not much else. The kind of place where you are much more likely to see performing acts mingling with patrons instead of being hold up backstage. Gypsy Sally’s brand of charm came in handy as the crowd filed in many of them making a b-line for Congress keys player Chris Speasmaker. However, after a while it was time to put pleasantries to the side and start the show.
The first set starting around 9:30 and the group went back to their original extended play (ep) album from 2010. Loretta showcases a few of the groups best attributes right off the bat, namely the seamless way they blend bass, guitar, keyboard and drums, a song about journey and the standout vocals of Jonathan Meadows. Maybe it is unfair that upon first look you don’t expect such a clear, almost delicate voice to jump out of Meadows slender frame and somewhat gruff appearance but it does. In the modest space of Gypsy Sally’s you can’t escape Meadows tenor sound that easily drifts into higher registers. After each song Meadow thanks everyone for coming out and Scott Lane add commentary about the selection. The next song was Keep it Virginia.
That is followed by The Congress’ first dip into The Loft Tapes; Curtis Mayfield’ People Get Ready.
A song with such a rich history world scare lesser musicians to just mimic the original, but there is certain level of ownership that comes across as the group plays the familiar melody. Guitarist Scott Lane’s long blonde hair and his tendency to rock way back as he plays might say grunge but the carefully placed rifts speak to other musical sensibilities.
Quickly the pace of the show picks up Fall and Distance come in repaid succession. And then a moment that you only get from a band acceding success’ ladder; The Congress plays pre-recorded material and it smashes. In an instant the audience is strumming imaginary guitars and stroking pretend keyboards. It was their favorite song and they didn’t even know it yet. As the group circled back to known territory with Echoes, more seamless harmony, another voyage, but this time drummer Mark Levy sheds his group mates off the stage. Then after a quick turn around they come back to announce that the second set will commence right after a quick break. If they didn’t call for a break I’m not sure if Levy would have stopped drumming. You don’t typically speed into halftime, but this is The Congress and the first set was a fine introduction.