Rivers Casino was building a new larger event space and needed a musical act to christen the room. They wisely chose soul/pop/funk band Kool & the Gang for the inaugural show. This culminated in the sold-out concert Saturday night at the casino.
Kool & the Gang are a positive energy music generating machine. At the concert it was hard to tell at times who was having more fun, the audience, or the band. To start the show the band members strode onto the simple stage and started playing “Tonight,” after which the lead singer shouted “Pittsburgh’s in the house tonight.” Next up was “Fresh,” a big hit off of their 1984 album, Emergency. It got many in the audience dancing. “Fresh” featured a pounding bass guitar and drum bottom, quick lead guitar strums, sweet backing vocals of “Ooh La La La” and horn highlights.
The next song had a jazz guitar intro (Kool & the Gang started in Jersey City, New jersey as a High School instrumental jazz and soul band called the Jazziacs) that lead into the tune about young love, “Too Hot.” It also had a very pleasing sax feature. After the song the lead singer introduced the band’s original drummer, George Brown, now the percussionist/keyboard player. The crowd gave him a very nice round of applause.
The lead singer asked if there were any ladies in the crowd named Joanna. A few hands went up and the band then played their hit of the same name. It was a nice arrangement of tight vocal harmonies, horns, and backing vocals of “La La La.” The ditty also featured very good slide trombone play. “Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It)” was up next and followed by a new Kool & the Gang song, “Sexy (Where’d You Get Yours).” Good to see the Gang out with a hot new song. “Sexy” even had two guitarists playing bass.
Kool & the Gang consists of a percussionist/keyboard player, drummer, primary keyboardist, lead guitarist, a second guitarist who plays lead, bass and rhythm parts; bass player, lead vocalist, a second lead/backing vocalist, and a horn section of trumpet, slide trombone, and saxophone.
The lead singer asked the audience if they wanted to hear some of their songs from the ’70s and of course the audience answered in the affirmative. They showed their amazing jazz skills with an instrumental performance of “Summer Madness.” The song is so good it’s one that a person could find spiritual enlightenment listening to. “Summer Madness” was featured on the original Rocky movie soundtrack. “Funky Stuff” then rolled into “Jungle Boogie” which was introduced by a Tarzan call and featured trumpet parts that sounded like an elephant’s roar. Also played in the ’70s section was “Open Sesame” which was on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. “Hollywood Swinging” was a fun part of that section of the concert..
Group Co-founder, bassist, and namesake, Robert “Kool” Bell, was warmly introduced by the lead singer. Bell said, “We couldn’t have done it all these years without the love and support of all of our fans.” The audience gave him a rousing ovation.
The lovefest continued with the pleasant love ballad “Cherish,” quickly followed by top hits “Ladies Night” and “Get Down on It.” The songs got the crowd up and dancing once again. Much like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Led Zeppelin when they were performing, everyone knew what Kool & the Gang’s encore song would be—”Celebration.” And they played one of the all time great party songs superbly. Kool & the Gang’s wonderful 90 minute set came to a close. The diverse crowd thoroughly enjoyed the group’s hit songs and top-level musicianship.
It’s great to have the new Rivers Casino Event Space where they can bring in some bigger acts. This elevates Rivers Casino to a higher level. The new room’s sound is decent, the tied together banquet chairs are comfortable and allow one to stretch their legs forward. The seats are not on a slope, they are on a flat floor so if someone tall sits in front of you, you may need to adjust your viewing angle a little. The Event Space staff is friendly, bathrooms are clean, and drinks are readily accessible. Upcoming concerts at Rivers Casino include Blues Traveler, Jeffrey Osborne, and The Ohio Players. It’s fantastic to have another good music venue in Pittsburgh.
Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.