The Washington Post
E.U. puts a fresh spin on a decades-old cut
Go-go, with its funky percussion and lively call-and-response format, could easily be dismissed as lighthearted party music. But don’t be fooled: The official music of D.C. is protest music. “I’m going to use this platform that God has given me to address violence in any way I can,” says Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott, the lead vocalist and guitarist of legendary go-go band Experience Unlimited, who is celebrating his birthday with shows at Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club and the Birchmere. “I’m known as a go-go artist and throw a good party, but people can also hear the message at the same time. Love your brothers, because peace has gone away. We need to bring it back.”
Celebrating 50 years as a group, Experience Unlimited, also known as just E.U., has rereleased one of its first singles: “Peace Gone Away” was written more than 40 years ago but sounds just as relevant today.
“While we would all like to think that violence has gotten better since that time [when the song came out], it hasn’t — in fact, it’s gotten worse,” Elliott says. “So somebody’s got to step up to the plate and say, ‘Hey, we got to fix this.’ And hopefully the song will reach a new generation of people in 2022 and help people change their course for good.”
Citing increased violence within the District, particularly in Ward 8, where E.U. originally hails from, Elliott felt that “Peace Gone Away” was emblematic of the current state of affairs. Violent crime in the city is up from last year and recently became a focal point within the go-go community after a shooting at music festival Moechella in June. The band rerecorded the song and shot an accompanying music video with Melva “Lady” Adams, who co-wrote the 1977 single that originally appeared on E.U.’S debut album, “Free Yourself.”
“To know better is to do better,” proclaims Elliott, who stands tall behind a go-go mural of himself next to the Congress Heights Metro stop in the “Peace Gone Away” video. His emphatic message is underscored by a booming horn section, spastic percussion and Adams’s soulful singing that gives a fresh spin to the original cut. Keeping that creativity and originality flowing is something Elliott says has kept E.U. relevant in a crowded music space.
“The originality is so important; you have to play original songs to go to another level,” says Elliott, noting a trend among go-go bands of covering popular pop songs to reach new audiences. “You can do a well-mastered or well-created remake of any song and you put that go-go spin on it, that’s going to help, but we’ve been blessed in E.U. to always learn music and appreciate it and make originals of our own, and we had a lot of success with it.”
E.U.’S 1988 hit “Da Butt,” which was featured in Spike Lee’s film “School Daze,” is one of the few go-go songs to chart nationally. The band scored two more Billboard charting singles shortly after. E.U. plans to play some of its seminal hits, with more surprises up its sleeve, during the birthday celebration in Bethesda this weekend.
Says Elliott, “This is not only a chance to see E.U., but to also see go-go history and see how we still party today.”
Sugar Bear Birthday Bash featuring e.u. on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club, 7719 Wisconsin ave., Bethesda. bethesdabluesjazz.com. $30. Sugar Bear Birthday Bash Part 2 featuring e.u. and Vybe Band on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Bethesda Blues and Jazz. $40.
e.u. featuring Sugar Bear Birthday Show on aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon ave., alexandria. birchmere.com. $35.