Deep Fried | 03.15.04 | Lincoln Theatre | Raleigh, NC
There's something about the funk. Undeniably hypnotic at its best, funk and the true funk masters can keep the steamroller beat churning forward while still unloading mighty chops over the top. I'll make a quick confession here. Sometimes live funk bores me. Blasphemous though these words may be, I've seen too many funk shows where the band relies purely on groove, with nothing to say in between the downbeats. Since it's so easy to jam on just a few funky chords, some bands become overindulgent and turn what could have been a great 70-minute set into a really boring 3-hour show. But when Deep Fried came to town, it was a lesson in the opposite: how to electrify the crowd while never dropping the energy for even a second.
"Well, they're a supergroup to me," I argued in response to a friend who challenged my description of the band earlier in the day. She's more of a Top 40 gal, and as such was unfamiliar with terms such as Gov't Mule and Meters. Sometimes I forget those people are even out there. But as far as I was concerned, "supergroup" was the only word that fit. Blind songwriter and keyboardist Johnny Neel has laid down his slinky blues and swamp boogie since the early '80s with everyone from the Allman Brothers to Willie Nelson. Drummer Matt Abts has held down the anchor for Gov't Mule's meaty blues since its inception. He first played with Neel in the Pink Floyd cover project Blue Floyd before they formed the improvisational keys and drums duo X2 together.
Stoltz, Abts, Porter (left to right)
Guitarist Brian Stoltz spent a decade with the Neville Brothers, while also playing with musicians ranging from Bob Dylan to Edie Brickell, before landing in his current role with the funky Meters. Stoltz started jamming with X2 and it sounded so good they decided to find a bassist to complete the sound. Enter the maestro. George Porter, Jr. was a founding member of the original Meters back in 1965. His deep-rooted bass antics laid the groundwork for four decades of funk and rock, and propelled him to work with artists including Paul McCartney and David Byrne.
The veteran musicians knew it would be easy to be an all-star cover band, but they wanted instead to create something new. They decided to only continue the project if they wrote new material they were all excited about, and only if it killed onstage. A few Colorado gigs confirmed their suspicions, and Deep Fried set about becoming a band. They rolled into the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh, NC and opened with--you guessed it--a jam. Stoltz's giant unfolding guitar chords led into "Stone Funky" before Abts' pounding rhythm took us straight into "You Put the New in My New Groove." It was here that they really started to slide into their greasy gumbo. It's not that they were rusty before then, but that I was. It takes a few minutes to sink into the funk like a fine quicksand. While they had sound check and backstage to acclimate, I fell into their flawless fury like an accidental belly flop into the deep end.
Neel's thick organ led the band into "All My Life," where he switched to a soaring piano sound that flew over the music. This was pure Meters bounce with a Southern crunch. "Norma's House" then led into the soul-rock classic "The Letter." First recorded by the Box Tops in 1967, it was written by singer Alex Chilton when he was only 16. He was further immortalized when his next band Big Star's "In the Street" was chosen as the theme song for That '70s Show. Neel, Stoltz, and Porter combined voices for some lofty three-part harmonies before Neel's organ again took over the steering wheel.
A tease of Bill Withers' timeless groove masterstroke "Use Me" led into a cover of Traffic's crowd-rousing "Feelin' Alright." The Southern boogie was in full swing as Porter's monstrous bass led into "The Beast." They continued with the Meters' "Funkify Your Life," sounding like the theme song for a '70s science fiction funky TV show that never existed. Porter was in all his glory here, bursting out bass lines with thick roots and a pogo stick snap. "I got the funk down to a T," he screamed before Abts tore into a huge drum solo that led back into "The Beast."
Porter took a glorious bass solo on "Come On Over to My Side" before the band launched into another improvised classic rock medley. The Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See" plotted a slow, chunky course as Neel's bar room piano embraced the Southern twang with boogie-woogie intentions. Porter's bass solo featured him attacking the instrument like a guitarist, bending and twisting the notes to his will. The whole raucous spectacle sped up into a heavenly honky-tonk shuffle before bursting with full force and unexpected thrust into Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy." As they quickly morphed into The Beatles' sing-along celebration at the end of "Hey Jude," a friend correctly predicted that this would wrap up their set. "You can always tell a 'Goodnight Cleveland' moment," she said.
George Porter Jr. & Johnny Neel
"We gonna get a little bit nasty, a little bit greasy." No, that wasn't my friend talking that time, but rather George Porter, Jr. as Deep Fried returned for their beer battered encore. Stoltz's gritty guitar tone plucked out the ascending opening notes to the Meters' celebratory "Just Kissed My Baby." He was chicken-pickin' and grinnin' as they took the jam into "Thankful N' Thoughtful" from Sly & the Family Stone's freewheeling 1973 album Fresh. "Let Me Have it All" from the same album followed and brought the show to a close.
Deep Fried's funk never meandered, but was rather precise with a focus on instrumental prowess--solos with statements and vocals with soul. These longtime pros are creating new songs based in the roots of the past while tearing forward on their own path. There's more touring on the way and hopefully an album soon, so don't miss your chance to soak up some cholesterol with these funky gourmets.
Words by: Paul Kerr
Images by: Gabriel Nelson
JamBase | North Carolina
Go See Live Music!