Chuck Brown: Live Last Night
By Mark Jenkins
The crowd that filled the 9:30 Club Saturday night was there for Chuck Brown, but -- as always with go-go audiences -- was entirely capable of making its own music. The "wind me up, Chuck'' chant began before the go-go pioneer had even strapped on his guitar, and throughout the show Brown ceded well-known vocal hooks to his fans.
Indeed, Brown's distinctive growl was seldom heard during the nearly two-hour concert, which marked the performer's 73rd birthday and the unveiling of "Chuck Brown Way'' nearby at 7th and T Sts. NW. Brown mostly played guitar, occasionally singing snatches of blues and jazz classics as well as his own compositions. Eventually, he got to "Bustin' Loose,'' the 1979 hit that gave go-go its first national exposure.
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Several other vocalists, including keyboardist Cherie Mitchell and "Little Benny'' Harley, supplemented Brown. Yet the most important source of musical chatter was the strutting four-piece horn section, which interjected short phrases in the manner of a 1930s show band, but also contributed longer, more modern solos. The horns parried with Brown's guitar during both the Woody Woodpecker theme and "Also Sprach Zarathustra,'' two of the goofier moments in a set that ranged from Muddy Waters's "Hootchie Cootchie Man'' to M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes.''
While the vocals, horns and guitar jumped in and out, drummers Kenny Gross and Moe Hagans never took a break from the syncopated groove that held everything together. If Brown was the shining star of the evening, Gross and Hagans were its sweat-drenched heroes.
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