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CIFF: Thunder Soul

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 6, 2010 6:20PM

2010_10_6thundersoul.jpg This is part of Chicagoist's coverage of the Chicago International Film Festival.

Charting the story of a black Houston high school’s award-winning soul band, this electrifying documentary will please both crate-diggers and aficionados of 70’s nostalgia. The Kashmere Stage Band was not the byproduct of a typical band class meant to fill up an hour of the school day for reluctant teenagers. It was, for about six or eight years during the 1970’s, an elite funk unit, complete with syncopated dance moves and a backbone so tight you could set your watch by it. So successful during its heyday that it toured Europe and Japan, the Kashmere Stage Band’s recordings were later sampled by the likes of DJ Shadow and re-issued by Stone’s Throw Records on two very successful compilations.

During an amusing montage of yearbook photos, the alumni of the group reminisce about their teenage years. “It was the Superfly look,” remembers one. “Then, tight was right,” says another. Of course now, thirty-odd years later, those kids are gray-haired baby boomers, and most of them haven’t touched their instruments since graduation day. The core of Thunder Road follows these out-of-practice musicians as they reunite to perform a tribute concert to Conrad O. Johnson, the irrepressible music teacher who whipped the teens into a musical dynamo all those years ago.

Filmmaker Mark Landsman makes generous use of the original records and also poignantly captures Johnson’s final days. The kicker (not captured in the film) is that reunion band is actually playing gigs again! Like any good music documentary, it makes your ears hungry for more. As the end credits rolled we were already planning our next trip to Dusty Groove.

Thunder Soul
screens October 8, 9, and 13.