Karyn Kuhl Band makes intense return to stage after more than a year

Karyn Kuhl review

CINDY STAGOFF

Karyn Kuhl performs at Church Square Park in Hoboken, May 15.

The blisteringly hot Karyn Kuhl Band broke out of pandemic seclusion by performing at the beautiful gazebo at Hoboken’s Church Square Park as part of the Hoboken Library’s Gazebo Concert Series on May 15.

Nestled amongst brownstones and a crowded playground, Kuhl and her enthralling blues-influenced, Hoboken-based indie-rock band dazzled not only their adult fans but the kids, too. During a rousing rendition of “It’s Over,” a song about smashing patriarchy and creating a people’s revolution, children paused their play to sit and watch from their climbing equipment. It was very hot out and that contributed to making fans dizzy with excitement for the band’s first live show in more than a year.

“It was emotionally intense to come back after over a year of shared trauma and loss in our world,” said Kuhl after the show, adding that she is grateful “to be alive and making music again with a band that I love and sharing it with a community that I love.”

Kuhl’s unapologetically fierce voice and sizzling guitar blended well with her devastatingly talented bandmates: guitarist James Mastro (The Bongos, Ian Hunter’s Rant Band), bassist Larry Heinemann (Springhouse, Blue Man Group) and drummer Jonpaul Pantozzi. Her songs have an electrifying, hypnotic feel and I’m glad that she and her bandmates are back playing live, with a hopeful and cautious outlook for the coronavirus’ future trajectory.

CINDY STAGOFF

Jonpaul Pantozzi at Church Square Park.

This summer will mirror the magic of adolescence when there were so many memorable firsts: first time driving, first kiss, first beer, first heartbreak. But all of those firsts may pale in comparison to the first live concert after the quiet days of the pandemic. While people stayed socially distant from each other, most did not wear masks, which was also a first for me as mine dangled on my wrist.

The crowd enthusiastically danced to the opening song of the afternoon: “Hey Kid,” about the youthful part of ourselves that hasn’t yet confronted the limits of activism.

Kuhl played the dreamy, psychedelic, jazzy “The Wheels,” a song about conformity and gentrification, and a celebratory “I Feel Love,” the Donna Summer disco hit that gets her fans to dance. (In a prior interview, Kuhl admitted that in the late 1970s, when disco was punk’s enemy, she wore a “Burn the Disco Down” button to shows at CBGB, but different times bring an appreciation for what some of us previously rebuffed.) The band also played the Sinatra standard “It Was a Very Good Year,” with a surreal quality via the rhythm of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”

I found joy in Kuhl’s music and from the vibe of the crowd. For about 90 minutes I was very present, shutting out the noise created by the rest of the world.

CINDY STAGOFF

Larry Heinemann at Church Square Park.

We have all experienced that emotional moment when an artist sings your favorite song — something you’ve listened to in recorded form, again and again — live. That moment happened twice for me.

When Kuhl played “It’s Over” — which she last played live at Debi Taffet’s Bandwidth Inn house concert series in Montclair — Taffet, who was excitedly present at the concert, turned to me and said, “I feel liberated.” The entire crowd screamed in sync with Kuhl when she got to the prophetic lines:

The family tree ain’t what it used to be and it will never be what it was
We know it’s over and so do you, so three cheers to the new red, white and blue
The end is near and it’s what you fear
Because the future is female, black and queer

Introducing the song, which celebrates the end of right-wing leadership, Kuhl acknowledged former President Trump’s defeat, but said “that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

CINDY STAGOFF

James Mastro at Church Square Park.

The second song from the show that is on my mind’s replay is Mastro’s new single “My God,” which quieted the crowd. “My God doesn’t fight in wars, doesn’t know what wars are for, thinks they’re dumb if it hurts someone,” he sang.

Kuhl premiered two new songs that she is planning to record, “Turning Blue” and “Cat Swamp Road.”

“Turning Blue” is a timely rock ballad that explores isolation and “being comfortable being alone with yourself,” she said after the show, adding that it also expresses the notion that “even if people are not physically present, they are still with you.”

Kuhl wrote the first few lines in 2008 and finished it during the pandemic. She sings: “It’s turning blue outside and you know it makes me feel just fine, ’cause everybody’s gone and I think that the time has come to have a party and invite nobody.”

“Cat Swamp Road” is a melancholy song about Kuhl’s journey to visit her father, who was dying in a nursing home. She references her father’s father, whom “we never knew”; he was incarcerated at Sing Sing and, like his granddaughter, was a musician. The song profoundly depicts her “ancestral trauma,” she said after the show.

JACK SILBERT

James Rado enjoys the show.

The band played a gorgeous rendition of the 1967 song “Aquarius,” whose lyrics were co-written for the musical “Hair” by Hoboken resident James Rado, a friend of Kuhl’s who was in attendance.

Kuhl said in a prior interview that offstage, she is a homebody, painting, teaching online (during the pandemic) and tending to her cats. But onstage she feels “more like who I truly am than anywhere else … Like when you are completely connected to your spirit, your soul … you go beyond past, present, future and you are not thinking about anything. You are not worrying about anything. It’s kind of ecstatic.”

Kuhl and her band brought their ecstatic and positive energy, and great rhythms, to Hoboken, offering a temporary reprieve from the worries the coronavirus has amplified for more than a year.

For more on the band, visit karynkuhl.com.

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