Kung Fu at Buffalo Iron Works

One of the best parts about living in Western New York is the guarantee that on any given weeknight you can catch mesmerizing performances by world class artists who dominate their niche. One night that might mean seeing the next up and coming jam band, and the next a jazz legend you never thought you’d see live. On Thursday, March 29, Buffalo was devoted to pure funk as Kung Fu turned Buffalo Iron Works into a contemporary groove factory.

Before Kung Fu took the stage and serenaded the crowd with their jams, Maryland-based funk/psychedelic band LITZ got things going early in the night with a unique sound of their own. The four-piece opener thoroughly engaged the audience by incorporating different wind instruments, deep funk grooves and an animated front man who sang like a combination of Steve Winwood and Greg Allman. The band clearly did their homework and it showed, as the crowd went wild for their rendition of “Shout” with a full “Let’s Go, Buffalo” call and response section. By the time Kung Fu took the stage, the crowd felt a collective euphoric buzz and was eager keep dancing.

Kung Fu got things going again with a grimy funk groove which picked up right where LITZ left off. Guitar player Tim Palmieri was quick to showcase his technical ability as he laid down a swirling, meditative solo which bounced sounds around the room like a ripple in a small pond. The murky green lights behind the band gave the impression that the crowd was being brought to Oz as the band made their way through the final verse.

Without missing a beat, the band quickly teleported the audience from Oz to 42nd street in 1977 with a gripping funk instrumental led by saxophone player Rob Somerville that can only be described as “street music.” Percussionist Adrian Tramontano held down the low end and hypnotized the crowd with exotic fills while the rest of the band took turns with individual takes on the song’s main theme.

As the set went deeper it was clear the band knew exactly what tricks to pull to have the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands. The veteran funk group seemed to do everything right as they strutted along as one cohesive entity, making impressive shifts in tempo, dynamics and key. They nailed composed sections to difficult newer songs as if they had been playing them for years, and could turn on their improvisational prowess on the turn of a dime. Bassist Chris DeAngelis was clearly responsible for many improvisational peaks of the night, as he dazzled everyone in attendance, both on and off stage, with his natural feel for the groove and prodigious knowledge of the instrument.

The band only got tighter as the night continued, with keyboard player Beau Sasser keeping the rest of his bandmates on their toes by changing keys and tempos mid jam. It was clear that the band was constantly challenging both themselves and the audience throughout the show, giving the feeling that anything could happen at any point. While most of the night was rooted heavily in funk, it was obvious that the band was influenced by a wide variety of music from around the globe, creating an incredibly personal, indistinguishable sound. At one point, it felt like the band was leading an exploration of an Egyptian pyramid, and then suddenly without a warning they were in the middle of a Coltrane-esqe avant guard cyclone.

By the time the band finished up their last songand said their goodbyes for the night, no one in crowd was ready to leave. They received a cheering ovation and came out for one more high energy ‘victory lap’ song which sent attendants home smiling and wishing they were returning for one more night of funk.