By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
Make sure you head to the Pickle Barrel Thursday for the return of Kung Fu. I look forward to this show every year. I had the pleasure of speaking to Rob Somerville, saxophonist and vocalist for the band. His other band, Deep Banana Blackout, used to tear up Killington in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Somerville reflected on those days: “Oh I remember those days when I was a little younger and Deep Banana used to come up there. We were a little crazy back then. We would go skiing all day and then hit the gig at night and then go skiing all day the next day and then hit the gig again at night.” Kung Fu might not hit the mountain this time around but they will definitely tear up the Pickle Barrel. Kung Fu’s other members are: Adrian Tramontano (drums/percussion), Chris DeAngelis (bass guitar and vocals), Tim Palmieri (guitar and vocals) and Beau Sasser (keyboards and vocals).
The guys are all well known and have been in some of the more popular bands on the jam band scene. Tramontano, DeAngelis and Palmieri are from The Breakfast, a hard-hitting jazz rock experimental quartet. Sasser was in Uncle Sammy and Melvin Sparks Band and Somerville DBB, a New Orleans style jazz-funk band.
I asked Somerville to describe the band and he said, “It’s a very aggressive, educated, funk-fusion extravaganza. We’re steeped in that tradition of funk and jazz but there’s a lot of rock. The band definitely knows how to rock out. Most of the time we can’t help it, we’re just full throttle. It fits right in on the festival and club scene because it’s dance music. We have a lot of experience and the musicianship in the band is very seasoned and very polished sounds that we go for.”
Kung Fu does what Somerville likes to call “smart touring.” They tour all over the U.S., but they go out for a few weeks at a time. “At this stage in the game, with all of us having families and kids, we try to not be on the road for big extended periods of time. We’re not going out on the road for three months. We like to do fly-outs. When you look at our schedule, it looks like we’re all over the place all the time. In reality we’re touring smarter and we can accomplish getting back to markets that we want to without having to spend weeks getting there.”
As Kung Fu increased its popularity, started getting really big crowds and a following, and created a buzz, the guys would ask Somerville if it was like his DBB days. “Not to compare the two bands, but that’s what made me want to play with them. I’d gone and seen Kung Fu like two or three times and I wanted to be in the band.” A friend of his commented on him joining the band. As soon as Kung Fu released the news of Somerville joining them, his friend said, “That’s amazing because you said you wanted to be in that band.” Somerville said, “It’s a testament to those guys. It’s how I always judge a band. People ask me: how do I know that a band is good? Because I want to play with them. They were smokin’; they were just killing it. I told them that I didn’t even have to play the sax, I could just get up and sing a few tunes. That’s how much I wanted to be in the band. It’s been a wild ride, it’s been great to be back on the scene in another band. After DBB I didn’t really sit around and think if I’d be in another touring band. It just came out of nowhere.”
Somerville said, “You can expect to see fierce funk. The guys I get to play with are world class musicians. I’m the lucky one. Adrian calls me ‘The breath of fresh air.’ I don’t know what that means [laughing].”
I can attest to the fact that they are all world class. Palmieri is a monster guitar player who will melt your face with his solos. Somerville added, “He’s the most brilliant guitar player on the scene and I’ve seen a lot of guitarists.
When Tim is ready to rock, he is ready to rock. We like having that reputation of being a filthy funk band. We like the challenge of living up to that reputation. Night after night, I’m always impressed with the abilities of the guys. No matter what’s going on in their lives, whether they’re having a good day or a bad day, it does not matter when we get on the stage. All of that stuff goes away and everyone’s that much of a professional at what they’re doing. There’s good days and bad days, especially when you’re on the road, but it’s about getting through that and getting through a gig. I think that’s one of the best things about this band that night after night, we can go out and deliver high energy, danceable, fun, funk music. Everyone is smiling, everyone is enjoying themselves and we really enjoy each others company and enjoy each others musicianship. We respect each other personally and musically. It works, and it works night after night.”
Photo courtesy of DJ Dave Hoffenberg