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Upside Groove Coalition: A Premium Blend of Musical Style

by Thomas Durkin / photos by Jason Williams

Crashing the national music scene not only takes talent, but often a whole lot of luck (exceptions: you look like either Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake or you perform like John Mayer, a watered down facsimile of a watered down Dave Matthews). For most bands, developing a local following is difficult enough. Translating that local support into national exposure can be nearly impossible, but the Milwaukee-based Upside Groove Coalition appears poised to try to make that transition. Upside Groove Coalition has been performing gigs throughout the state and filming a music video at the Rave in support of their first album, Funky Estofado. On a recent Tuesday, the band brought their eclectic mixture of rock, jazz, blues, latin, and ska to Onopa Brew Pub. While occasionally sharing the stage with spoken word performers, Upside Groove Coalition displayed the musical chops that just may attract a larger market. Lead singer Ritchie Howell, a former MC on Bourbon Street, has clearly mastered the art of engaging an audience. Hopping around the stage, occasionally in tandem with saxophonist Matt Ostlund, Howell’s clear, distinctive voice enlivened several tracks from Funky Estofado, especially “Room 410” and “Bread and Butter.” Howell and his band mates also put their own creative spin on a handful of covers, including the Rolling Stones’ “Waiting on a Friend” and The Band’s “The Weight.” Ostlund’s sax play, wild mane, and equally wild body contortions capture the spirit of the band. His style is an integral part of the band’s sound. In many ways, Ostlund’s saxophone work functions similarly to that of Derek Huston of The Iguanas, providing Upside Groove Coalition’s latin feel. Ostlund and bassist Steve Tycz appear to communicate effortlessly on stage. This is important as many Upside Groove Coalition songs begin with a Tycz bass line with Ostlund, guitarist Sean Berry, and drummer Brian Bruendl soon injecting their own distinctive flavor. While the play of Berry and Bruendl is often understated, each provides an essential element of Upside’s funky sound. Many bands that bring together so many diverse musical styles tend to treat live shows as extended jam sessions. While Upside Groove Coalition deviates from the traditional three-minute song in favor of more textured, layered, and complex arrangements, they wisely eschew the extended solo performance. This is not to suggest that the members are incapable of grabbing the spotlight, but Upside Groove Coalition focuses instead on their cohesiveness as a group. Bringing all their musical influences and interests together creates a dynamic sound. Tycz notes that having band members with diverse musical backgrounds allows Upside Groove Coalition to “end up in musical places that each of us wouldn’t have imagined on our own…Pretty soon there’s this great musical stew of ideas going on, and you kind of wonder — how did we get here?” Listening to Upside Groove Coalition, it is clear that the music is given time to evolve. With a confident attitude, infectious style, and a little luck, Upside Groove Coalition just might have what it takes to propel them onto the national scene. Funky Estofado is on sale at music stores throughout Milwaukee. Check www.upsidegc.com for information about the band, upcoming performances, photographs, and more. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 9 – September 2003