Unaka Prong played their first show at Legends in Boone, North Carolina on Thursday, delivering their unique brand of jazzy funk to an audience that was ready to dance.
When asked during their rehearsal what it meant to play at Legends, drummer John Hargett responded, “Legends is on our short list of places you have to play as a Boone band.” The rest of the group echoed his sentiment.
The mood is always bound to get groovy when Unaka take the stage, and Thursday’s show was no exception. As they opened their set with funky covers of Soulive’s “Turn It Out” followed by “Cissy Strut” by The Meters, audience members made their way towards the front of the stage. Keyboardist Chris Pope provided a mellow backdrop for Nic Presley to wail over with his John Coltrane-inspired trumpet insanity, while the band’s rhythm section locked into a New Orleans-style soul groove.
By the time Unaka started playing originals, it was evident that their audience had come to jam along with them. They came out with “Crunchberries”, a psychedelic number written and sung by bassist Jonathan Sale, followed by “Anxious Summer”, a folksy tune written and sung by Hargett.
“Crunchberries” is a rare rock song that can capture both total silence and heavy moments of noise. “I like it because it’s so humorous when that last bit of silence hits,” Sale said. “We hold it out just long enough to make the audience unsure if we’re doing it on purpose or not.”
“Anxious Summer” was also a distinctive song in the band’s set given that it is only one of three songs they played that featured lyrics. With lines such as “I wish I had duct tape on my brain”, Unaka is able to add a nostalgic lyrical voice to their jam heavy sound. It couldn’t come at a better time as well because it allowed the audience a moment to relax and wonder for a moment.
For “Truffle Shuffle”, Ross Robinette, a friend of the band, was invited on stage to jam on the trumpet. The dual trumpet sound increased the level of funk that Unaka is normally capable of producing, as well as the infectious energy from Robinette’s guest performance caught on quickly.
Next they alternated from the funk-based groove of “Truffle Shuffle” to a psychedelic original called “Hella”, which has a Radiohead influenced sound. Another friend and local musician, Coleman Christopher, joined Unaka from the audience to rap over the drum beat and winding guitar lines.
As the main set wound to a close with a cover of The Allman Brothers Band classic “Midnight Rider”, Unaka was able to honor their influences and bring the night full circle with one final cover. Guitarists Daniel Stevenson and Mike Welsh channeled Dickey Betts and Duane Allman, while Welsh melted the faces of everyone up front with a bluesy guitar solo.
For the encore they performed a crowd favorite original song called “Southern Blood”. “We play that one because it has a perfect pause where people start screaming,” Steven said. True to his statement the audience let out a collective shout at the climax of the song, which marked the high point of the night for the band and the crowd.
Overall, Unaka Prong’s first Legends outing proved to be another successful gig for the group and a testament to their abilities as a tight-knit live band.
Written by Dolan Reynolds