Chuck Brown revives go-go
When most people hear go-go, they think white knee-high boots and short dresses, but that’s not go-go at all. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, go-gos were clubs, and in the D.C. area, go-go became a musical genre and a way of life characterized as a fusion of funk, hip-hop, and R&B with a strong community following. For many years, groups tried to take it out of the D.C. area, but it never caught on anywhere like it had in its birthplace.
Of course, it’s still possible to find go-go with all of the same energy and verve. For example, when you get an icon together with a few bands who call him the godfather, it could be a sign that the music still has some life in it. Chuck Brown’s show at the 9:30 club shows that there are still places left for the genre to go.
On Aug. 28, go-go and the 9:30 club celebrated the 74th birthday of the movement’s godfather, Chuck Brown. He started playing guitar in the ‘60s in various bands, including the Earls of Rhythm, before essentially defining what go-go music would become. His hits include “Bustin’ Loose,” the song chosen as the National’s celebration anthem for years. When your hometown Major League Baseball team recognizes your greatness, you know how much you belong to your town.
A number of bands came in to pay tribute, playing their own deviations of the music he started, mixing in a few covers of the classics. It was as if an entire musical genre came full circle.
The first band, Lissen, contained all the elements of a good go-go band: electric guitar, the traditional drum kit, conga drums, saxophone, horns, bass, keyboard, tambourine, singers and a cowbell. It takes a lot of effort to get that many instruments on stage, and a lot of coordination to pull it off. Lissen was able to do so with all the energy and charisma one expects from the genre. Their songs ranged from their own poppy originals to classic old covers.
Next on stage was an all-woman group called Be’la Dona. Be’la Dona had all the rhythm and soul of the band before, as well as all the instruments. They brought the funk and were a little deeper than the band before, filling out their sound with lower notes and more bass.
At this point in the night, it was easy to get a feeling of what go-go was to the crowd. They possessed enough love for the music that it’s a wonder it never made it out of the D.C. area. Everyone danced and sang along with classic go-go songs, as well as the modern hits. Still, most were just waiting for the man of the night to take the stage.
When Chuck Brown finally stepped on stage, everyone adored him. To the crowd, this night was as much about nostalgia as having a good time. When he played, it was like going back to the clubs in which the music originated. It was about feeling the music. The people in the crowd danced as if they were back in the go-go era.
It’s fair to say go-go never died. In that large room, there were as many fans from back in the day as there were new ones. It’s like the Beatles; every generation manages to find them, no matter how many years pass and how far music progresses. And the youth of this city can always find Chuck Brown, whether it’s in the record collection of their grandparents or parents or aunts and uncles. Go-go may not have been able to leave the District, but it doesn’t look like it wants to go anywhere anyway.