JC Brooks' trim, black suit bespoke his stylin' moves and the influence of his sartorial soul forebears who populated Stax and Motown back in the day. But his is not your father's soul music. His songs may revere the midcentury masters, but Brooks' sensibility has also wrestled with punk and rap, and has been nuanced by the overthought archness of indie rock.
Brooks burst practically out of nowhere last year with a viral soul cover of Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart." Ever a tightknit crowd, the Chicago music community embraced him; Jeff Tweedy even crashed a Brooks/Uptown set at the Hideout. That might have been the end of a gimmick, but Brooks is made of much more, as he revealed in a Club Congress show that seemed to draw from every 7-inch and obscure YouTube clip in the band's catalog. The dozen-song set took just four numbers from the 2011 full-length, Want More, the band's second album.
The punk-simple, sexually charged title track enabled Brooks to showcase his full range, from a back-alley growl, to a silky falsetto, to bell-like clarity. The song also brought a chuckle from the crowd when—during a litany of things he wants more of (illustrated with some grinding body language)—he allowed that he'd like more cowbell. His keyboard player obliged.
The sad ballad "Missing Things" was simply pretty ... and sad. Brooks' riffing throughout the Wilco cover gave it new layers of meaning, clinched with his coda, "If I can't hurt you, no one can."
The regular set closed with a dance party in a number that opened with the guitar and bass playing an invitation in a matching figure. Brooks' sidemen are exceptionally clean pickers, as worthy of the jazz proscenium as the rock-club stage. Bass lines are particularly faithful to the philosophy of the subtle yet defining infrastructure laid down by Motown's James Jamerson and Booker T.'s Duck Dunn. The band's opening vamp for the star, as well as their mid-set ensemble piece, highlighted how expertly they supported Brooks' reinvention of R&B tradition.
DJ Carl Hanni (a Tucson Weekly contributor) opened with a pitch-perfect overture drawing heavily from Numero Group's Eccentric Soul series.