music reviews san francisco

Music / Konono #1 lights it up

Last night, Konono #1 played the Palace of Fine Arts. Before the show, I was a lit­tle wor­ried that their scruffy, off-kil­ter sound may get washed-out by the fan­cy sound-sys­tem of the PoFA, and that they may end up sound­ing like lame-ass Ashke­naz-style "world music."But from the first moment, they total­ly ruled, and their sig­na­ture sound — with home­made elec­tric pick-ups for their ikem­bes (thumb pianos), dent­ed met­al discs serv­ing as cym­bals, and MASH-style mega­phones as a PA — was faith­ful­ly recre­at­ed. The PoFA is a cham­ber-music-style venue with cushy seats and lit­tle room to boo­gie, but most of the crowd was stand­ing and danc­ing by the third song, and groups crowd­ed at the sides of the stage to impro­vise a lit­tle dance floor. Their final song was an epic, 45-min­utes trance-induc­ing jam that had every­one clap­ping and chant­i­ng along with the track-suit-clad front man.Most remark­able was the vital­i­ty of it all, the sense that there was some­thing essen­tial and healthy and real being cre­at­ed. Each band member's intense, insis­tent pres­ence was spell-bind­ing, espe­cial­ly the old­er guy in the blue base­ball hat who trad­ed off with Mingie­di (the leader, pic­tured) on the thumb piano and per­cus­sion. He was locked into a seri­ous groove the whole night, bang­ing out pre­cise rhythms, and belt­ing out crisp, deep monot­o­ne har­monies that were jar­ring but some­how per­fect. It's not often that San Fran­cis­co crowds get up and shake their ass­es, so it was espe­cial­ly impres­sive that Konono #1 made danc­ing in a con­cert hall on Sun­day night seem total­ly natural.