On Friday, the bustling Allentown hot spot Duke's Bohemian Grove Bar gradually morphed from a happy hour, casual dining joint into a full-blown dance party by night's end. Between 6 p.m. and midnight, one could hear soul, jazz, pop, hip-hop and house music, all without leaving the club.
Caitlin Koch -- the former "X Factor" contestant and Western New York chanteuse -- was joined by the Jamie Moses Band for three sets of music, some culled from Koch's new EP, "The Ex Factor," and others pulled from the deep annals of R&B and jazz history.
There are many among us who feel strongly that Koch was unfairly cut from the "X Factor" and that she had the ability to outshine the competition without breaking a sweat. That show's loss is clearly our gain, though. Since leaving, Koch has grown significantly as an artist. During Friday's three sets, the singer displayed a deep soulfulness, subtle and sophisticated sense of phrasing, and masterful control of dynamic range. At 22, she's already a startlingly mature singer, whether interpreting classics with throaty aplomb or moving with graceful ease from a near whisper to full-on soulful wail during originals such as "Back in My Garden."
The early-on, laid-back feel of the first set -- highlighted by a sultry interpretation of Bill Withers' "Use Me," with Sonic Garden keyboardist Kevin Kukota sitting in with the band -- gradually evolved into a sweatier, torrid vibe as the night wore on. Koch offered a stunning take on Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" in Set 2, her nuanced caressing of the melody and assured sense of pacing lending drama to the performance. Later she traded verses with keyboardist/singer Moses during a deep-in-the-pocket reading of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," a tune written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and made famous by the Temptations, who took it to the top of the singles charts in 1973. Drummer Marty Raymando, who was performing with the Moses Band for the first time, played with power and precision here. In fact, Raymando was on throughout the gig, bringing a fire to the rhythm section that ably served Koch's super-sensual R&B-based singing.
The Gladys Knight & the Pips classic "Midnight Train to Georgia" is right in Koch's wheelhouse, and she knocked it out of the park. This was Koch doing what she was born to do -- finding and exploiting the intricacies of soul singing, paying heed to the past but bringing a modern sensibility to the party as well. Unlike so many of her peers, Koch doesn't over-sing, doesn't indulge in busy melisma or frantic scatting. She simply doesn't need to, preferring to practice nuance and sophisticated understatement. This makes her a soul singer of considerable power, and the Duke's crowd felt that power throughout the three inspired sets of music.
Later, Boombox -- a showcase for resident Duke's deejays Mario Bee, the Owski and Bearskinrug -- transformed the lush, lounge feel of the Caitlin/Moses Band performance into an urban dance hall vibe. Mario Bee's set hit the hardest, though all three deejays offered a diverse, eclectic mix of genres and idioms, ranging from pop and new wave -- Mario Bee even performed an interpolation of a classic '70s Cars tune within a hip-hop groove -- to punk, funk, old school soul and hip-hop. The true art of being a deejay demands an ability to create a seamless flow, matching rhythms, grooves and beats with interesting key changes and segues, all the while keeping the dancers moving. These young and eminently talented Buffalo deejays did just that, deep into the evening and morning.