Robert Walter is a musical genius. Over the years I’ve watched him perform alongside a countless variety of talented musicians, with every show turning out to be a FUNK-in good time. Walter was a founding member of the Greyboy All-Stars before branching out and doing his own thing as a solo artist with his own band, 20th Congress. As an established keyboardist and composer, he creates funky jazz-rock that is dynamically powerful and grows from one performance to the next.
Robert Walter’s 20th Congress played at Martyrs’ and I had been excited for the show for months leading up to it. I must say that out of every musical genre, FUNK is by far my personal favorite because there is something about it that just makes you feel good! Luckily, I arrived at the venue that night just before they began their first set. My schedule was tight, especially since I was coming from another show across town featuring a little band called Umphrey’s McGee. I was thrilled to get there without missing anything except for the local opening band, I could not have planned a better after party for myself.
When Robert Walter’s 20th Congress initially took the stage, I was a bit surprised (and a bit disappointed) that there were no horns or brass instruments of any kind up there with them. The quartet playing in the Congress started the show with “Hunk,” a fast paced, funky dance tune that is also soulful and relaxed. I have heard Karl Denson play on this tune with Walter before, both live and on studio recording of this tune, so it definitely sounded different this time around. Regardless, I really enjoyed the progression of the song. The thought of the missing horns quickly vanished from my mind for the rest of the show as the band continuously blew me away. It was an all out jam session throughout most of the first set, with each member ferociously pushing one another to play harder and faster.
The chemistry between Walter and bassist Victor Little is intense, in the best way possible. Throughout the entire show the two playfully went back and forth, complimenting and contrasting each other and the music. By consistently laying down slick bass lines, Little gave Walter free reign to get weird and funky. I was hypnotized by their phenomenal drummer, Simon Lott, who has a uniquely fluid style and technique. He kept the grooves moving with punchy rhythms and animated stage antics. The group was joined by Chris Alford on guitar, who stepped in to join the guys for this special Chicago show. Even though he had not been touring or playing with Walter regularly, he fit into the 20th Congress so perfectly that it was hard to believe he wasn’t a regular member of the group. Like the rest of the musicians on stage that night, Alford is a badass musician who never missed a beat. The guitar balanced the full sound of the band while keeping every song moving.
I came to this concert well prepared to boogie. “Snakes and Spiders” was the highlight of the first set and the song took the whole show to another level. Walter took a quirky approach to the tune on his overdriven keyboard, mixing in multiple glitches, tweaks and sounds together at the same time. All while the Congress continued to jam and improvise and the crowd eventually went wild. Even the band was highly amused with one another onstage, especially when they took turns furiously jamming. At certain times, Walter would stop playing, stand up to joyously watch what the others were doing. Robert Walter is intoxicating to listen to and entertaining to watch, and his soulful raw energy is impossible to ignore. It was apparent to everyone in the room that the whole band was enjoying each moment playing together, especially with Walter bouncing around the stage with a massive, magnetic smile on his face.
The second set was on fire, turning a sweaty dance party into a sauna. Overall, they sounded outstanding the whole night and the show was on point. Even thought the show’s vibe was super chill, the music was still hot and funky. As the venue was hoppin to all of the underlying ‘Nawlins’ boogaloo energy, RW2C threw in “Kool is Back” and “Don’t Hate Congratulate” before closing out the well-rounded night of music with the jazzy standard “Who Took the Happiness Out?” I loved seeing this insanely talented cast of characters play together and this show was top notch.