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The Heavy Delivers A Funk-Soul Fireball At Double Door

By Kim Bellware in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 17, 2010 5:00PM

Most bands have to worry about maintaining a high level of energy, not curtailing it. The Heavy are not most bands, and with a front man as irrepressible as Kelvin Swaby, playing with and adjusting to off-the-charts excitement is practically routine. Saturday night at the Double Door, Swaby and the band stepped on stage fully charged from the first number and were already pulling on the reigns by the third. The decision was as keen as it was necessary; had the band continued at the pace they set, everyone in the audience would have passed out by the halfway point.

Back in Chicago, finally as a headliner again, The Heavy melted faces from the front stage to the back of the room during Saturday night's funk, soul and gospel throw down. Though the band hasn't generated much new material since the last time we caught them, Saturday's set had some of the most noticeable Southern music influences that we've heard from them yet. A source touring with the band mentioned that Swaby--who has long been fascinated with black music of the South--spent some time visiting Georgia and other locales where he explored the history and culture of Southern gospel and roots music. Nods to those styles included the opener, with it's riff from Screamin' Jaw Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You," and the gospel-themed kissoff number that the band played in the dark for their closing song.

Sandwiched in between were songs in the band's more familiar territory: energetic, thrusting soul jams with funky bass and horns, all topped off with Swaby's dynamic vocals. During standout tracks like "Oh No! Not You Again!," "Cause For Alarm," and "How You Like Me Now" the band tucked in brief and subtle segues, sometimes easing into a vaguely reggae groove, other times moving in to an outright medleys. We couldn't imagine a better band than The Heavy to tear into a Kinks song, and their segue into a cover of "All Day And All Of The Night" was another surprising and exciting highlight. Yet despite the multiple music references, The Heavy does better than just really good mimicry with their ability to handily translate the language of old style gospel, soul and funk into a modern, rock-ready form.

While the group was knocking it out of the park musically, they proved to be just as tireless when it came to connecting with their audience. Swaby makes it a point to strut, point, lean in to close to a fan, grab a hand or lock eyes, but the rest of the band did a fine job without being able to physically articulate like their front man. Drummer Chris Ellul, bassist Spencer Page and guitarist Dan Taylor (along with a few unnamed men on brass) added plenty of heat to the stage and proved capable of generating a rush all their own. By the end of the night, shirts in the crowd and on stage were near transparent with sweat--no one passed out to our knowledge, but after the hour-plus of The Heavy's relentless rocking, it was surely a close call.