“What does Con Brio mean to you?”, Ziek McCarter asked of an enthusiastic crowd at the main stage on opening day of Electric Forest. “It means power! It means heart!” In music vocabulary, it also means to play ‘with spirit’ (Italian).
On Thursday at Electric Forest, it signified the name of a seven-piece powerhouse funk, soul and R&B band from San Francisco. Con Brio was the first band of the weekend to perform at the Ranch Arena and welcomed festival-goers as they streamed in by the thousands.
Before their set, I got the chance to sit down with Con Brio and talk about life on the road, an upcoming album, and how they mentally and physically prepare for a big show.
Ziek McCarter is just 24 years-old but commands the stage and crowd like a seasoned veteran. His voice ranges from the highest of falsettos to low melodies and everything in between. Jonathan Kirchner, the bassist, met him at an open jam at Madrone Art Bar in San Francisco when he was 19 years-old. McCarter would sing covers of Stevie Wonder and Tears for Fears, Kirchner would hold down the low end.
Kirchner and McCarter brought some other musicians in and started playing as Con Brio in 2013. Since then the band has toured around the world, gone on the road with The Revivalists, The London Souls, and Galactic, and put out an EP and LP. The last two years have been heavy on live shows and the band has gotten tighter because of that- both on and off the stage.
“The last two years we’ve been touring together nonstop,” comments Kirchner. “It’s like family. We spend so many hours a day within arms reach of each other.”
It’s vital for a band to get along on the road, to form a brotherhood of sorts that stays positive and carries each other through the ups and downs of touring.
Con Brio has played Outside Lands, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and more. Their performance at Electric Forest was their first in Michigan. To prepare for their set McCarter says he eats some food, the band has a little pow-wow and drinks plenty of water. “Hydrate or die,” says Kirchner. Which after seeing them live makes even more sense. Throughout the set McCarter covered every inch of the large stage with dance moves, doing the splits and popping back up, spinning in perfect control with the tail of his vest following behind, and jumping off of the stage speakers to hype up the crowd. The energy was infectious and the crowd reciprocated.
The set started off with their quick and funky tune “Liftoff”. The crowd slowly started to fill in and were treated to incredible sax and trumpet solos by Marcus Stephens and Brendan Liu in “Never Be the Same” and “Kiss the Sun”. The sun started to peek out from the clouds as Tash from The London Souls joined the band on guitar for a four-on-the-floor funk jam that got the crowd moving. Kirchner went to high school with Chris St. Hilaire, the drummer from The London Souls, and have been friends with them for 15+ years. Now the two bands tour the country together.
The set closed with one of their earliest releases “Give It All," and McCarter gave every ounce of energy he had left to the finale. Overall each musician contributed equally to a nice, full sound. Everyone took a solo except for the drummer Andrew Laubacher and Kirchner on bass- they were too busy holding down the groove. After a performance like that, it's hard not to walk away impressed- hooked is an understatement.
Off-stage the band has a mixed bag of musical interests and influences. One of Kirchner’s favorite? None other than the one and only Vulfpeck.
“I love Vulfpeck. I’ve been listening to them since 2011. It’s been so cool to see their rise. It’s cool to see their definitely a post-internet band. They made their following online and then went to the live circuit.”
Con Brio has found that most people see them live at a show or festival and then check out their music online. It’s interesting to see the two different approaches and aspects of marketing for bands in the scene today.
In response to arguably my most important question, both McCarter and Kirchner agreed that McDonald’s fries are better than Wendy’s fries. So yes, we can love pretty much every single thing about this group.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled for their upcoming album, and follow their social media to see when you can catch them live. You will enjoy their music and performance, I promise.