Kongos Union Hall, Edmonton AB, September 29

Kongos Union Hall, Edmonton AB, September 29
Photo: Dana Zuk
Two years ago, North America was introduced to an accordion melody that quickly became an earworm on alternative radio, serving as the breakthrough for a band of brothers from South Africa known as Kongos. "Come With Me Now" was actually released back in 2011 in the group's home country, but it's now their hallmark and undoubtedly one of the songs fans at Union Hall were eagerly waiting to hear.
But they would have to sit tight for about 45 minutes while the Kongos brothers — Johnny, Jesse, Daniel and Dylan — made their way through tracks from their album Lunatic and the recently released Egomanic. But the eclectic crowd didn't seem to mind; their enthusiasm didn't waver throughout the show, with plenty of clapping and singing along.
The show began on a more mellow note with "Repeat After Me," with accordion player/keyboardist Johnny taking the lead on vocals. Arranged in a line across the stage—a configuration that negates the "frontman" label, at least in the traditional sense—the brothers seamlessly swapped lead vocal duties, their voices distinct yet cohesive.
Kongos' original songs were punctuated by a reimagined cover of "Get Back" by the Beatles that included unexpected rap verses, courtesy of their stage manager, who proved to be an energetic showman in his own right.
The band appear to operate as a well-oiled machine, opting for smooth transitions from one song to the next rather than filling every free moment with stage banter. There were a couple of instances where drummer Jesse or bassist Dylan addressed the crowd, including a quip about the weather — "This is as cold as it gets for us," Jesse said, prompting a laugh from the crowd — and expressing the group's appreciation for the support they've received from Canadian fans.
Displaying commendable musicianship throughout the night, Kongos ended on a particularly strong note with frenetic performances of singles "Take It From Me" and "I'm Only Joking," which came complete with smoke cannons that fired giant smoke rings in time to the stomping percussion. But the crowd wasn't ready for it to end, and Kongos returned for the inevitable encore, for which they chose the heartfelt tune "Escape" and a cover of "Blue Monday" by New Order.
Overall, Kongos delivered the performance fans appeared to be hoping for, touching on a healthy portion of their material old and new. Was it a show that will be remembered years from now? Probably not, but it was certainly enjoyable — and it proved the accordion isn't just for polkas.