Old-school funk, soul, and R & B have returned from the 99-cent bin with a vengeance in the last couple years–try to find a soul-music fan who hasn’t heard of the Dusty Groove imprint or jazz funksters the Pharaohs, back from the tomb after more than 20 years. So it’s easy to forget that when the Crown Royals first got together, five years ago, almost everyone who brought the funk used a sampler. But from day one the Crown Royals have made their grooves the old-fashioned way–not by nicking riffs from old James Brown records but by playing their own stuff, together and in real time, on actual instruments. And the rhythms they generate have none of the bulk or density you’d expect from guys who have played with the Waste Kings, God’s Acre, and the Flying Luttenbachers. Their sound is clean and spacious, characterized by the light, focused drumming of Jeff BBQ and Pete Nathan’s tart rhythm guitar; bassist Mark Blade, rather than pound out the same muddy riff over and over, subtly alters his line with each repetition, weaving in and out of the drumbeat. In concert, though, the frontline players sometimes forget themselves, slipping into the over-the-top abandon of their earlier projects: two weeks ago at the Bluebird Lounge, Nathan’s clipped, stuttering solos veered into garage-rock distortion, and Ken Vandermark spiked his well-oiled tenor sax turns with split-toned screams transplanted from his free-jazz work. But like the hip-hoppers know, you can put anything on top as long as you nail the funk down underneath. This concert celebrates the release of the Crown Royals’ second album, Funky-Do! (Estrus). Fred Armisen y Su Mensaje de Caracas open. Saturday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. BILL MEYER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Marty Perez.