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by Jeff Nania on July 20, 2011

Red Square, July 16

You may know it as that full-bodied, softer wine, but Pinot is also a full-bodied, heartbeat-hammering funk band from LA.

They started off with the Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces,” which is one of those archetypal funk tunes that people immediately recognize even if they don’t know what it is. There was heavy emphasis on the keyboardist’s pitch modulator, and the tune sounded decidedly more electronic than the original while maintaining a hip, retro vibe. Then they followed up with another cover, “Shake Everything You’ve Got” by Maceo Parker. The melody was slightly more syncopated than usual, falling about a beat behind what you would expect. The bassist played a chromatic octave walk-down in between choruses, an autographic element of the group’s arrangement of this funk standard.

After they played the shit out of two cover tunes, it was obvious that the group was very talented but I found myself wondering, “What, are they just a sick cover band?” I was anxious for an original, and sure enough I got one.

A bright washy guitar sound reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or even 311, opened up with a short staccato riff: tushhh ticka ticka ticka. Drummer Sam Brawner came in cool and crisp on the high hats and then struck the snare with deep precision. The Hammond organ and sax growled out a melody and then everyone stopped on a dime before starting up again. The tune isn’t called “Mr. Rager’s Neighborhood” for nothing.

For “30th Street Riot,” saxophonist Pat Keller said, “We’re gonna need some audience participation. . . It’s called the ‘aw shits.’” A hard funk groove started up. “Aaaawww—shit!” the band shouted. Then the audience had its chance. Three of these climaxes and the riot was underway.

Keller is originally from Niskayuna but moved to the West Coast to go to school at USC back in 2005. While there, Keller met drummer Sam Brawner and formed Pinot. Keller is an extremely physical player, who makes all kinds of wild gestures when he is really ripping. His heat-seeking lyricism soars above the funk machine that is Pinot. Bassist Nick Klingenberg also pulled out some physical moves on the original “Belly Flop. He walked toward the front of the stage and held his P Bass straight up-and-down so that it was high in the air above his over-six-foot frame. He seemed to launch the groove at the audience like it was coming at them out of a lacrosse stick.

After the cool jazz-funk groove, the band returned to a burner with “Oh Shit, The Jam,” which broke down into Herbie Hancock’s “Hang Up Your Hangups. This was Brawner’s first real chance to let loose, as the rest of the band locked in on a signature Herbie riff. Brawner’s strong strokes drove hard as time phased in and out.

Guitarist John Shroeder blazed solos throughout the night, but none as strong as his work on “Alabama Slammer. He had a strong feel of blues, jazz and funk, and toward the end of his solo I could feel the band’s heart pounding like they were all marathoners.