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Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Hot locals: JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, White Mystery

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There's a trend on Facebook now posting photos of billboard-like and bumper-sticker slogans, everything from feel-good epigrams to hackneyed political statements. One such quotable making the rounds last week insisted, in cruder language than this, that you should get off your duff and see some live local music.

Here's the perfect opportunity: Friday night at Double Door two of the city's hottest young bands share a double bill -- the sizzling neo-soul of JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound (above right), followed by the monstrous garage rock duo White Mystery (above left). Eclectic and electric, and you really should go. Facebook says so.

To read about White Mystery, click here!

To read about JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, read on ...


with Satan's Youth Ministers, DJ Sloppy White
• 9 p.m. Oct. 28
• Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee
• Tickets, $10-$12, (773) 489-3160,



Mayer Hawthorne made sweaty women swoon at Lollapalooza. Van Hunt has one of the hottest new records available. Raphael Saadiq backed Mick Jagger at the Grammys in February because Mick called him.

In some corners of 2011, it sounds a bit like 1966.

Chicago has its own answer to this revival of America's classic soul sound: JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, one of the city's liveliest live acts.

Brooks isn't that surprised by soul's return to the fore.

"It also has to do with the times," Brooks said during a recent interview. "Originally, soul music was happening during a very politically and socially tumultuous time in this country. Now there is, I think, a feeling that we're in a similar time, that people are eager to be more physically responsive to what's going on around them. I mean, I was out of the country when Occupy Wall Street happened. It was genuinely surprising to me that people were getting out in the streets about something, anything. Strong times call for at least a more engaging music."

Brooks and the band -- guitarist Billy Bungeroth, bassist Ben Taylor and drummer Kevin Marks -- just returned from a three-week tour in Spain and Italy. This weekend they'll celebrate the release of their second album, and first on Chicago's Bloodshot label, "Want More," along with a full horn section and backup singers.

In Europe, Brooks said audience energy was just as he likes it: "unruly."

"Not that I've been to a genuine roadhouse, but I love that feel to a show," Brooks said. "The more energy there is, the more there is to direct."

How exactly does he wrap an audience 'round his little finger?

"I just get on stage and ask for-slash-take it," he said, chuckling. "Once you have people's attention -- I'm not entirely sure how it happens that I throw the switch on the ride. The first few minutes are very important. It's about getting their attention and making sure they know what I'm asking of them. A lot of people go to listen to music and talk and have conversations, and that's fine. I don't demand theater-level silence. But we have an interactive, audience-participation show. You know, it's like Catholic church. When it's your turn to get up and shout, we're gonna tell you."

Before he was honey-voiced soul man JC Brooks, Jayson Brooks was a local actor. Last spring, he starred in the acclaimed Bailiwick production of "Passing Strange"; it's a play about a musician's struggle, so the band joined him on stage for several scenes.

But, in a sense, the Uptown Sound is its own acting gig. The band came together through a Craigslist ad placed by Bungeroth in 2007. His sole goal was to make aggressive dance music, but not the electronic variety. Brooks' band background was in alt-rock, punk and rockabilly. The gathered group threw out some songs they had and began jamming, and a soulful vibe showed itself.

"We basically settled on soul," Brooks said, "because these songs that I'd brought in and that Billy had, they just took on a new thing when we started playing together, definitely with an eye toward soul. We started started refiltering stuff to fit our sound."

That retooling process contributed to a modest online hit last year with the band's retro-soul cover of Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," which appears on the "Want More" album.

"That song started out as a joke," Brooks said, "but we'd also been informed lately by the idea of doing a cover not just as a tribute but transforming the song in such a way that it might raise questions with people. In maybe 2007-2008, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings played the Vic, and Bill and Ben went. The band played Janet Jackson's 'What Have You Done for Me Lately,' and it sounded so authentic that Ben actually had a moment thinking, 'Wait, did Janet cover this song?' That's what we hoped to accomplish with this Wilco song by taking it in such a radically different direction that people might go -- who wrote this?"

Brooks approached the development of the band as he would a stage role. He read up on soul music and watched videos of classic performers. He crafted a stage persona designed to elicit the wildest response from a diverse crowd.

There's a twist, of course. He does make the ladies go wild -- just don't pay too close attention to the pronouns in his songs. One of the band's latest tunes, "Chicago 70," finds Brooks, who's gay, singing, "I want a new type of guy."

"I've been out for a long time, and I've gotten used to not feeling weird about it," he said. "Part of the reason the band didn't start with me doing the soul-man thing as a gay man was the sort of actory approach I took to getting into the music and creating this character of JC. I didn't think about it, I just thought, 'OK, I'm writing songs to chicks because that's how this works.' After a while, I started to be a little more present. I started to observe what I was doing and interacting with guys and girls in the crowd and started to swing the JC needle to a kind of Captain Jack [TV's 'Torchwood'] omnisexual thing. We're all soul people, we all just love. I could hit on anybody. That's where JC is staying, where I'm comfortable. There are a lot of chicks, and most of this is a nod to them. But the nod comes with a wink."

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Heya thanks for covering the show! Will you post the White Mystery photo galleries too?

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on October 26, 2011 6:00 PM.

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