Set for Steel Bridge: New Music from Sons of Kong, Chocolateers

Matty Day

matty day | set for steel bridge | june 2016

The 12th annual Steel Bridge Songfest goes down June 9-12, filling Sturgeon Bay with talent from all over the country. This year's festival is an especially important one for lowercase leaders pat mAcdonald and melaniejane; a successful event would only be a boost for mAcdonald's spirits while he undergoes treatment for lymphoma. So many of us are pulling for you, pat!

Based on its lineup – viewable at – Steel Bridge is certainly primed for another great run. Green Bay will be well represented, too, with acts including The Bastard Association, The Foamers? (heard THEY were cool … ), Sons of Kong and The Chocolateers. Just in time for the festival, the latter two have independently released some new music – exciting stuff from two of the area's hardest working bands.

Coincidentally, both of these new releases begin with car sounds. Let's rev up the review-mobile!

Sons of Kong: SHAG

Live, there may not be a local band that plays with more effort than these guys. Last time I saw them they were finishing a five-day stretch – sort of a mini-tour – that had them working full-time by day and playing in different Wisconsin cities by night. Both candle ends crisply burnt, they rocked relentlessly. They always do! And “SHAG” does a fine job conveying that vitality.

Sons of Kong recorded the five-song EP at Chicago's Wall to Wall Recording with Chris LaFrambois – bassist Mike Jarvela's former Disinformation Machine bandmate. LaFrambois' familiarity with Jarvela's playing undoubtedly aids this mix, which also manages to balance powerful playing and hollering from “Little” Joe Mussatto and Chris Mikula.

Mussatto – the gosh darn pride of Crystal Falls, Mich. – positively wails on these tracks, both vocally and guitar-ally. While Sons of Kong's loud live sound never feels less than full, it is interesting to hear the trio with an extra rhythm guitar track on these recordings. It also makes it that much more striking when the guitar tracks drop out and reveal Jarvela's bass work, particularly on the song “Cold Hard Woman.”

Mikula's drums dominate throughout, and by throughout, I mean throughout all space and time. I'm apparently too immature to write this without intimating entendre, so I'll simply state: Chris Mikula has an impressively large-sized drumset that induces awe and jealousy in all other drummers who see it.

I like this EP right from “Drive In's” Ten Years After-esque introductory sound effects, through “Yard Sale's” sped-up fadeout, to “I Like It's” groove and “Cold Hard Woman's” swing. The song order works well, with nice details like stray bits of amplifier buzz connecting the set.

“Bad Groove” is an ideal closer for this lean-n'-mean EP, but I wouldn't have minded if the guitars had spread out and done a bit of dueling, exploring the space a little. Then again I probably just wanted this solid slice of rock'n'roll to just keep on going. Sons of Kong, you have succeeded in leaving me wanting more! Have a listen at, and stay tuned for the CD release.

Cover art by Jacob BaconChocolateers: Planet 9

It's been a bit of a trip to hear The Chocolateers evolve, but each new phase continues to work. The group's one constant has been lead singer/songwriter Johnny Mazzariello, who began the group as a folksy acoustic duo. Piece by piece more members and instruments were added, making for a more jam-oriented rock sound. A couple years ago the group featured bongos, slide guitar and a tight drumming style that gave them this '80s-Stones-covering-T. Rex vibe (be still, my heart).

“Mazz” is now one of a core foursome featuring nimble lead guitar from Colin McMahon and the tight-but-not-uptight rhythm section of bassist Alex Kinstetter and drummer Chris Schoenecker. These three sing great harmonies together, and are outstandingly practiced on their own; McMahon and Kinstetter host or participate in weekly open mic nights at The Round Up Saloon, Birch Street Pub & Grill, Frets & Friends and Gasoline, respectively, and Schoenecker plays regularly with country-rockers The Raglanders.

“Planet 9,” The Chocolateers' new album, is equally informed by Mazzariello's ever-moving muse and the strong talents of the band's members. Where their quality debut, “Thank You,” was a comparatively hushed set of songs, “Planet 9” piggybacks off last year's live album “Free” – stream it at – and opts for a louder live-in-the-studio sound.

The results are wonderfully loose. Recorded by Marc Golde at his Rock Garden Studio in Appleton, The Chocolateers achieve an overall spacey sound on this set; at times it feels like it was recorded at night on an open outdoor stage. (GB bluegrass band The Liver Killers recently recorded with Golde also, and hearing what The Chocolateers created at Rock Garden, I'm excited for even more fruit borne of Green Bay-Appleton collaboration.)

The Chocos sound comfortable in this setting, and they revel in these recordings, with half of album's tracks soaring past the five-minute mark. They had time to get to know these songs, after all; some earlier versions appeared on “Free,” including the new album's title track, then called “River Seine.”

The Chocolateers can, and do jam on these songs, but they are indeed songs, not just excuses to noodle around – just dig those chord changes coming out of the title track's chorus. That song and others feature some satisfying synth sounds, courtesy of Ben Moore. Elsewhere the album's enhanced with nice slide guitar work and other odd bits of audio, with a lot of interesting transitions – typewriter clicks, studio chatter – between tracks.

I actually had to ask Mazz if that was him or someone else singing lead on all the tracks. He really pushes his pipes on some of these songs, particularly on opener “Wally's Song,” and there's more reverb on his vocals than there'd been on prior recordings. But if things get a little further out on “Planet 9,” relatively brief album closer “Animals” nicely ties up not only this set of songs, but perhaps everything The Chocolateers have released thus far.

Fun astronomy fact: Planet 9 was supposed to kill us all at the end of April. Pretty cool that it didn't! Enjoy the borrowed time, earthlings – starting with Steel Bridge and these two great bands.

Matty's written about local music since 2012, when the world was also supposed to end. He currently performs with The Foamers?, The Priggs, J-Council, Cory Chisel, Muddy Udders and the Gung Hoes. Local musicians, and fans or promoters thereof, send requests or feedback to Follow @PollutedMindset on Twitter for regular updates on area music happenings (#GBHaps).

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