As influential South Bronx band ESG hit up The Kazimier as part of a farewell tour, Getintothis’ Glyn Akroyd was there experiencing another one of ‘those nights‘ at the Wolstenholme Square venue.
A much anticipated show awaits us in the Kazimier tonight. The critically and peer acclaimed ESG, South Bronx funk-popsters who have been sampled so much that they named their 1992 EP Sample Credits Don’t Pay Our Bills, but who generally fly under the popular radar, are in town for their first ever Liverpool appearance.
Their 1982 track UFO has been sampled in 412 songs, including Party & Bullshit by The Notorious B.I.G. and Ain’t No Half-Steppin’ by Big Daddy Kane. They’ve done more farewell tours than Frank Sinatra, and this is, allegedly, another.
They are supported tonight by Glasgow based 6-piece Golden Teacher. It takes about 30 seconds for mass dancing to break out amongst an audience who appear to be in the know about these guys. High energy dance beats and throbbing synth get the party started early and the pure energy of singers Kathy and Lars is immediately infectious as they bounce, shimmy and snake around the stage.
Afrobeat percussion and woodblock rhythms scamper along beneath an echoey, spacey vocal as the crowd continue to move until the percussionist, a cross between Eno and Edgar Winter, all bewigged blond bob and white one piece androgyny, crosses the stage, crawls under the keyboards and pops up to deliver a brooding synth intro. The dance beats increase in volume and intensity, the vocals alternately chanted and sinuous over driving rhythms. Judging by the number of people walking around with Golden Teacher vinyl tucked under the arm they’ve definitely hit the spot. A ‘follow that’ performance.
It appears that ESG don’t want to follow that as there’s a very long wait until, at last, a guy walks down the Kazimier’s white edged staircase with a large pile of towels which he distributes around the stage – that’s good, looks like things are going to get sweaty again. Finally the band file onstage, looking, it must be said, rather unprepossessing, in sweatshirts, jeans and trainers. However, in this case, clothes maketh not the band, and as soon as the percussive, bass led You’re No Good kicks off it is clear that the funk is with them.
Singer Renee Scroggins may be diminutive of stature but she is clearly cut from the same cloth as a long line of gospel/blues/soul singers, a Sister Rosetta Tharpe filtered through the punk/pop sensibilities of ‘70’s New York. She growls and yelps her way through the set, aided and abetted by the rest of the band on backing vocals, and when after only the first song she yells “we’re gonna dance” most of the crowd already are. Next up is indeed Dance whose funky, probing bass repetition, snappy drumming, shimmering tambourine and yelping chorus propel the crowd to greater heights.
The percussionist dons an alien mask and illuminated fingernails and proceeds to show us all how to move, dancing like his back ain’t got no bones as Renee straps on a guitar, stands with her back to the audience and plays a single repeated motif for the duration of UFO, adding a trancey feel to the proceedings. This is the only time the set moves away from the basic drums/percussion/bass/vocal combination and even then it offers absolutely minimal embellishment.
The lack of any elaboration really focuses the set and you wonder at times how such a stripped back sound can be so compelling but it absolutely is. The energy levels are sky-high. None of the tracks last for more than four minutes at the most. The whole thing is tight. A packed Kazimier is moving as one, chanting out the choruses, arms aloft, and the band seem to feed off the positive vibes. As the set progresses we keep hearing snippets of familiar songs, a touch of Ting-Tings here, of Groove Armada there and it becomes obvious that ESG’s influence goes beyond the mere sampling of their songs.
New song Watching maintains the standard set by the earlier classics, featuring a soulful vocal, handclap rhythm and the wicked refrain “I feel you watchin’, you got your eyes all over me”. Cowbell and woodblock are added to afrobeat percussion and a heavy bass worthy of Funkadelic shakes the rafters during You Make No Sense, a chanted repetition of the title keeping the vocals as paired back as the sound. By the time an absolutely storming Erase You, complete with wonderfully gruff hound dog “ow ow” chorus, ends the set, it’s bedlam, with the crowd singing the band’s name and an ‘ESG are Scousers’ chant from stage left. The band is halfway packed up before the incessant noise draws them into a brief, joyfully received encore.
Here’s hoping this farewell tour goes the way of ESG’s others and that they’ll be back soon. Just another “I was there” night in the Kaz.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Glyn Akroyd.