Word by: Brian Bavosa | Images by: Robert Chapman
Lettuce :: 02.29.08 :: Sullivan Hall :: New York, NY
While Lettuce may be the main ingredient in this salad of funk, the toppings - soul and all-around ass-shakin' goodness - come in the form of horns, double keys, double guitars and a tangy drenching of hip-hop drums.
The current croutons are Eric Krasno (Soulive) and Adam Smirnoff on guitars, Erick "E.D." Coomes breaking necks on the bass, Adam Deitch (Slick Rick) dirtying it up on drums, Neal Evans (Soulive) on keys, Ryan Zoidis and Sam Kininger tooting saxes and Rashawn Ross blowin' trumpet.
Back in their hometown of New York City at the newly revamped Sullivan Hall (formerly The Lion's Den) for a pair of weekend shows, the band showcased many tunes from their upcoming, April 22 release, Rage! (Velour Records), as well as some old favorites. As the band's MySpace page announces, "As for the wide range of funk Lettuce dives into on Rage!, E.D. cites two factors: the deaths in 2006 of both James Brown and J Dilla. That's when we decided to tip our hats to every style of funk." Krasno echoes the same sentiments by defining the squad's sound as "music that represents a new era. We blend the old school with the new. We take solos but we also vamp on two-bar loops."
Upon entering the newly spruced up club, I felt a wave of swagger shuffle its way through my body. Like Kraz's quote suggests, the music is complex with eight moving parts, but remains simple enough to evoke one single reaction: an all-out dance party. I used to see them here years back with a much smaller crowd, but a full hour before show time, I could barely belly my way up to the bar, the show sold out long before this evening. I eventually settled into the second-ever NYC appearance by Portland, Maine's Rustic Overtones and their catchy, rock-driven, quirk-funk.
When Lettuce finally hit the stage around midnight, the infectious fuel of Deitch on the kit laid a foundation for the band's journey that would cover the spectrum of funk. Deitch says, "Lettuce is a group that takes its dedication to the music seriously. Know your history and take it somewhere." Not only does the new incarnation of Lettuce toss the listener old favorites, but tops them with a history lesson of audio delight. This band not only knows who their predecessors are but continually cite them in a voice, sound and style all their own.
Neal Evans - Lettuce :: 02.29 :: NYC
Their set included a pop-your-socks-off cover of Cutis Mayfield's "Move On Up" with guest vocalist Dwele, and a somewhat slowed-down track "inspired by Dilla," in which Deitch took the lead front and center. Also of note on this funky Friday night was Evans on the Hammond organ. I was hard pressed to take my eyes (or ears) off of him all night. He not only felt the music and channeled it through his limbs but he seemingly boogied harder than anyone on the dance floor. At a few points when I wiped the sweat from my brow, I remember thinking that without a doubt Lettuce sounded the tightest that I have ever heard them. Their was not a stray note to be found, and the shit was so ridiculously filthy not a single person left that venue without a desperate need for a shower.
Rounding out the night were a few cuts off of 2002's Outta Here, namely the title track and horn driven "Squadlive." The night ended with saxophonist Kininger tackling vocals on a raging cover of funk anthem "Express Yourself," which sent us on our way with a strut in out step and a belly full of good ol' funky Lettuce.
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