Kashmere Reunion Stage Band
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Oct. 7, 2011
Kashmere Reunion Stage BandUncle Billy's Brew & Que on Lake Travis, Sept. 30
Approached onstage at La Zona Rosa during the Chronicle's 2010 South by Southwest Film party, a Kashmere Stage Band member confirmed that it was the Houston funk orchestra's first performance in Austin. The former high school band's reunion two years earlier and subsequent documentary premiering at the festival that year (see "Kismet in Kashmere," Screens, March 12, 2010) – both prompted by the success of 2006 2-CD debut Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974 – had also spurred the KSB camp to contact our offices for a gig. Unfathomably, it was their only one that SXSW. On a short, three-continent tour coinciding with the film's new patronage and voiceover by actor Jamie Foxx (and a deluxe reissue of the acclaimed compilation), the Kashmere Reunion Stage Band returned to the Texas state capital for another unlikely show – this one three stories up in the new mountain resort village that is the Oasis out on Lake Travis. Where doubling up movie and music Downtown at the historic Paramount Theatre would have served Austin's illusive black middle-class same as its indie hipsters, roots wigglers, and hip-hop nation, the big band upstairs in the open air of Uncle Billy's rooftop picnic space – complete with fire pit – the night after a modestly attended screening at the Alamo made KRSB's electric rites somehow more rare. Even so, as the night unfolded, more and more revelers were drawn to the boogaloo far above the playland downstairs. Assembled originally by band instructor Conrad "Prof" Johnson, who died the same weekend he was honored at the group's 2008 revival, KRSB today plays tribute to his inventive, adventurous, highly evocative arrangements. Opening with Johnson's sleek and subtle but drastic retooling of "Shaft," the 28-piece gathering ("26, 27," shrugged one musician, the group's clusters on the bandstand making a definitive head count impossible) kept Isaac Hayes' familiar themes long enough to reel in the ear before spinning out into music theory applied and reconfigured as if for George Clinton and Sun Ra at Carnegie Hall. Pairs of drummers, bassists, guitarists, and percussionists all driving some seven saxes, five trombones, four trumpets, and a French horn, plus a flute that might have stolen the first set, KRSB defined juggernaut musically, while its seated choreography married the pogo to the sway. So swings the quintessential school band, every middle-aged man, woman, and one current youth in soulful service of the whole, stepping up when it's their turn then diving back into the current when they're done. Fiery saxophone solos would get punctuated by a wall of trumpets prior to one and all hitting it double-time. Early in the second 45-minute set, Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" slid into the Master Blaster's "I Wish" and the dance floor flooded. The O'Jays had the same effect. Round midnight a third set was announced. Can't stop a train.