Bunko Squad at Crestwood Tavern

Bunko Squad made a rare appearance last month at a haunt known for clandestine affairs held under the guise of pizza, pool tables, and beer. The Crestwood Tavern has long been an after-hours hangout for spies and other mysterious characters in our community and a place where they can mingle with all the civilians, get new intel, and knock down a burger and a few beers before heading off to Moscow or Bejing on their next mission. Taking cues from the Men in Black, Bunko Squad keeps everything covert and people guessing with their impeccable sense of fashion and their own brand of music that defies category,

These guys don’t mess around taking the crowd right into a 50s-era, Hollywood Noir film with a rendition of Henry Mancini’s, A Shot in the Dark, the title song from the 1964 movie featuring Peter Sellers in his second appearance as the famed bungling French inspector, Jacques Clouseau. The timeless surf guitar-riffs from Mark Kimbrell and Jerry Chapman wrapped around the infectious groove laid down by Birmingham’s hardest-working rhythm section, Lief Bondarenko and Eric Onimus draws you into this mysterious experience. By the time they finish the first song, you’re in!

Not waisting time with formalities or tidy vocals, the band moves harmoniously into Bebop on their journey through sonic territory that maintains a heavy jazz, rock, fusion interplay between Chapman and Kimbrell while Bondarenko’s drums and Onimus’ bass create a subtle, yet powerful force of nature for the guitars to fly on. No matter what tag you wish to put on this amazing sound, they keep the crowd smiling and grooving to their music non stop. Kimbrell sets off on a tonal journey to Bill Frisell territory and beyond with his flawless and unique interpretation of Frisell’s Strange Meeting that explores his vast musical landscape and guitar prowess. Kimbrell is a serious musician’s musician, a one-of-a kind player who stretches the boundaries in this musical environment. Champan is also a unique and gifted guitarist with a nice contrasting tone that is more subdued and tame than Kimbrell’s and keeps everything flowing gracefully. After interesting takes on some jazz standards, including Summertime, Chapman introduces a medley that only these guys could pull off called, I Shot The Real Jungle Immigrant For Ya, a joyous instrumental romp through Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, Kool and the Gang’s, Jungle Boogie, and Johnny Guitar Watson’s 70s funk masterpiece Real Mother For Ya, before winding up in Jamaica via Mars with some more spaced-out guitar gymnastics on Bob Marley’s, I Shot the Sheriff.

One thing you notice immediately about these guys is they are having fun! The next no-brainer is that they are all amazing musicians; a unique gathering of some of the finest talent in the world, and certainly the cream of the crop of the fledgling Birmingham music community. It would be interesting to tally the collective number of gigs these pros have played over the years, and the collective number of great bands they have played in to see the many styles and genres they have all perfected. This is the second time I’ve seen this band, the first being when they blew the roof off of Mathews Bar and Grill at Secret Stages in August. I can’t wait to see them again and would love to see an album from my new favorite Birmingham band.

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