Live Review: John Defeo at Room 5 Lounge

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Material: Combining elements of funk, hip-hop and acoustic pop, John Defeo has developed a neo-soul sound with attitude. The vocals, delivered with a hip-hop intensity, add a raw element to the melodic, jazzy backdrops.

“Colors Change” and “Be About It” showcase Defeo’s natural songwriting ability. His verses seamlessly transition to rhythmic bridges that crescendo into big choruses. With “Look for Love,” he reveals an emotional, softer side. The majority of lyrics revolve around unrequited love, and the music, which is colored with subdued, twangy electric chords, matches that theme.

Musicianship: Defeo has a subtle rasp to his voice that establishes a sensual vibe, but he gets a little whiny in the higher register. He could also strum his rhythm parts more confidently to match Heberling’s graceful playing. Brown, a talented percussionist, slapped the congas and shook the cabasa with dynamics. Richards confidently held down the rhythm, providing a solid foundation. Coles and Simone can belt, scream and harmonize beautifully and professionally.

Performance: The artist started the night out with two covers, which he made his own, livening the intimate space. As he transitioned to his own material, he settled into a comfortable groove and began attacking his vocals. “Something” and “The Truth” showcased sultry backup harmonies and tried and true call and response vocal orchestration that got the audience singing along. When Defeo slowed the pace, the rest of the players immediately adjusted, decreasing volume and adapting to the dimmed mood.

While the night went swimmingly for Defeo, a drummer would have better suited his material more than a percussionist. Though he’s a talented player, Brown sometimes gave the songs ill-fitting Latin grooves. Defeo kicked it into high gear when he played “Day Dreamin’” by Lupe Fiasco. The finesse of Coles and Simone was impeccable, and Defeo’s delivery catered to the cover. Concluding the set with a powerful a cappella breakdown in the funky “Be About It,” the venue exploded with applause.

Summary: With a humble personality, talented players and backup singers—and catchy material—it is hard to veer off track. It seems that Defeo is being pulled by hip-hop and acoustic pop. He already has a solid foundation, but deciding exactly where he stands between the two genres will only strengthen his sound.

The Players: John Defeo, lead vocals, guitar; Jimmy Heberling, guitar; Oliver Brown, percussion; Candace Coles and Tia Simone, backup vocals; Jonathan Richards, bass.

Venue: Room 5 Lounge
City: Los Angeles, CA
Contact: bandbiz@sbcglobal.net
Web: johndefeomusic.com