THE METERS FUNK UP DENVER

Words by Nathan Rodriguez :: Images by Tony Stack

The Meters :: 04.22.06 :: The Fillmore Auditorium :: Denver, CO

It is said that out of darkness comes light. From the wake of the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina, an outpouring of sympathy and aid came from the outside world. Many displaced residents of New Orleans fled the destruction and journeyed to different parts of the country. A number of musicians from the area took the opportunity to set aside any differences there may have been and hit the road, spreading the Dionysian gospel of the Mardi Gras spirit to eager audiences. Artists that had been taken for granted started showing up as stars (Dr. John at the Super Bowl and the Grammys comes to mind), and bands that haven't played together in months or even years were beginning to re-emerge. Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk swung through town a few months back; and recently The Meters made their way to Denver as well.


The Meters :: 04.22
Formed in New Orleans in the mid-60s, The Meters began as four guys that just flat-out enjoyed making music with one another. A decade later, they were touring with the Rolling Stones, doing private parties for the McCartneys, making music with Dr. John, appearing on SNL, and recording as the most in-demand studio group in New Orleans, lending their talent to artists like Robert Palmer for his classic funk groove, "Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley." Despite this seemingly high-profile resume, they never had that one smash radio hit to catapult them from being a "band's band" to a household name.

For those in the music industry, the story of The Meters serves as a cautionary tale. A couple execs heard them playing at a club, told them they were going to be huge, and had slanted contracts drawn up to separate the band from their right to claim profit. These contract disputes fractured the band in 1977, sending members their separate ways. The band would play again but much less frequently and without any additional work in the studio. Side projects assumed larger roles, and pretty soon, more than 25 different bands would include members of the original Meters, including the Neville Brothers and The Funky Meters.


Nocentelli & Porter - The Meters :: 04.22
Drummer Zigaboo Modeliste took some time to review the contracts and was so stunned by what he read, he filed suit against the execs around 1990. The timing could not have been better, as hip-hop was beginning to take off and classic samples from The Meters fueled beats from N.W.A., A Tribe Called Quest, The Beastie Boys, and others. Royalties were the major issue, and Modeliste eventually got an out-of-court settlement, though some unresolved issues still linger today.

During these subsequent years, the work of The Meters seemed destined for relative obscurity – most of their original albums were out of print and rare vinyl releases were fetching more than $100 a piece. Only word-of-mouth, admiration from Mike Gordon and other members of Phish, and (usually unattributed) covers by artists like Galactic and Robert Walter remained to sustain the legacy of one of our nation's founding funk bands.

Years passed without any hint of a reunion, and it appeared that the band's story was left for others to retell. As it turned out, the legendary quartet of Art Neville (keys), George Porter Jr. (bass), Leo Nocentelli (guitar), and Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste (drums) felt their book deserved another chapter.


Art Neville - The Meters :: 04.22
Their reunion at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was billed as a "Farewell Show," but the performance ended with a "wink-wink, nod-nod" moment with Modeliste saying, "We'll see you again." A few months passed, and Katrina sapped the humor from the situation but added a newfound sense of appreciation and urgency for the reunion attempt.

Fast-forward a couple months, and The Meters are back - for now, at least. The band selected Denver's hallowed Fillmore Auditorium to set up shop for the night, complete with lush carpeting, dimly-lit walkways, a large wooden dance floor fronted by a booming sound system, and purple-hued chandeliers accented by hundreds of framed photos of the acts that had passed through the doors of The Fillmore. The place just reeks of musical history, so it was only fitting that the founding fathers of funk would host a Katrina Benefit within its halls.

At the stroke of 9:30, The Meters burst into action with a short, explosive opener that gave way to the fan-favorite "Cissy Strut." Now for those who have only heard The Meters Best Of album with "Real New Orleans Funk" plastered on the bottom – this was a tad different. The disc is solid, but the songs seem more delicate and only one stretches past the 3:30 mark. This was a loud-'n-proud, stomping funk. Porter's thunderous plunks on the bass were hatcheted off by a snap of the snare drum as the rhythm section became the first to congeal.


Leo Nocentelli - The Meters :: 04.22
A brief aside: I managed to catch Galactic a few months ago at The Fillmore - great show, punctuated with jams featuring the Rebirth Brass Band and Leo Nocentelli. At the time, I hadn't a clue of Nocentelli's background, but I thought he had a fantastic and distinctive sound. It wasn't until a couple weeks before this show that I realized Nocentelli was the same guitarist that seemed content playing rhythm guitar on so many tracks for The Meters – I was looking forward to his bridging the gap.

Nocentelli and Neville did not disappoint. Art Neville was the first to clock in with an ascending spiral of a solo that drew a number of cheers. A few songs into the night, the crowd had settled in. Ticket prices of $32.50 prevented a sell-out, but not by much. The audience was a friendly mix of aging baby boomers with the usual Saturday night show-catchers.

Neville was giving the sound engineer visual cues for the drums to be higher in the mix, and over the next several minutes, the sound improved a great deal. The band seemed to be playing well, and the crowd was certainly having a good time. To the astonishment of everyone, Neville takes the mic and apologizes: "We'll get it together soon."

Wow. That'll work.


George Porter, Jr. - The Meters :: 04.22
The tune that followed unleashed a brief bass-and-drum duel, which gave way to a magnificent solo by George Porter, Jr. He confidently rollicked around a number of musical thoughts, hopping around on the lower register before nimbly resurfacing back to the meat of the song. It was nothing short of amazing.

The next highlight came as Neville shifted to the organ for the unmistakable intro to "Hang 'em High," the Dominic Frontiere classic. Who? (Don't worry, I thought it was Booker T. and the MG's until this morning.) After a brief foray into the seminal western movie theme song, it was back to the meat and potatoes that brought them acclaim.

The infectious "Funky Miracle" was the next big crowd-pleaser to surface, and it seemed to vanish into an entirely separate jam before being resurrected, to the surprise of more than a few people.


Nocentelli, Porter, Neville - The Meters :: 04.22
The only gripe with The Meters performance is that the vocal levels are horribly distorted. For the songs, this doesn't pose a major obstacle as the vast majority of the songs have few lyrics, if any. When Art Neville, or anyone else, would briefly attempt to speak to the crowd, however, most couldn't make out a blasted thing he was saying. As this was a fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina, one would imagine he would be talking about that at some point, so it was unfortunate the crowd was unable to make out what he was saying.

Sludgy vocals aside, the message was heard loud and clear during the show-stopper of the night, "Talkin' Bout New Orleans," from their 1975 release, Fire on the Bayou, which featured their most inspired playing of the evening. Neville's swells on the keys were met with a Nocentelli guitar solo that grew in intensity as Porter made his way up the scale. The band drew the music to a peak, then stopped on a dime and passed the torch to the rhythm section, which rebuilt the song from the ground floor. In classic Meters fashion, they left the down-beat silent, giving the jam more power as the other members created sounds in the remaining space. The band hit full stride and drew the song to a final, triumphant apex that sent waves through the Denver crowd.

From the dark trenches of their contract dispute, The Meters struggled to regain the rights to their own music. Their critically acclaimed albums from the 60s and 70s will now be re-released. The ruins of Katrina have served to bring the band back together – if for only a brief time - after a nearly 30-year hiatus. Out of darkness comes light, and judging by the abundance of excited smiles exiting The Fillmore, The Meters message of hope, possibility, and perseverance was clearly heard.

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[Published on: 4/27/06]

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Comments

mkane Thu 4/27/2006 04:08PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I disagree with this reviewer's opinion on the vocal mix. The vocals were dialed in perfectly. Yes, during the first few songs the band was giving cues to the monitor engineer, but that is standard practice for any band. The Meters have the 2 best sound engineers in the business, and to say the vocals were sludgy is sending the wrong message.

The reviewer also failed to mention the releasing of over 1,000 glownecklaces during the opening notes of the concert. This certainly amped the crowd and especially the band, thereby having an impressive effect on the overall performance throughout the night. Below is the setlist, and George Porter Jr.'s reflection on the evening.

The Meters
Denver Fillmore
April 22, 2006

start 9:30pm

Groovy Lady
Cissy Strut>
Saturday Night FISH FRY>
Poppa's Got a Brand New Bag(Jag)>
Cissy Strut
Fiyo on the Bayou
World is Under the Weather (Doodle Loop)>
George Jams like George can, and segues nicely into>
Funkify YOUR Life
Be My Lady (George introduces as "our version of a rock ballad")
Just Kissed My Baby (Zig nails the vocals)>
Art plays his new funky synth keyboard like it was 1977>
That Aint the Way>
Hang em High>
FUNKY MIRACLE>
Wade in the Water (Art is feelin it!)>
Cardova>
Look Ka Py Py>
Handclapping Song
Africa>
Africa jam with the band feeling it>
George sidles up next to Art on his B3 Bench and sits with him for an extended stretch and they rock the pocket together. It was the sh*t!>
Jam>
TALKING BOUT NEW ORLEANS (possibly first time played since reunion. Seemed like it was an impromptu breakout. This will be a huge crowd pleaser as they continue to polish this gem.)
Band Introductions
Aint No Use>
George Solo>
Aint No Use

Encores:
Down on the Bayou teasing>
Hey Pocky A-Way>
Band takes a bow
Art stays on with Sesame Street theme
Art launches Iko Iko and forces band back on stage
Iko Iko (drums and keyboards only, with all four taking turns at the verses with much crowd participation)

end time 11:35

Note: Stage setlist had "Big Chief" as encore. Opening Act: DJ Roots


From www.themetersonline.com

Posted by porter, jr. on April 25, 2006 at 11:05:16

I just found this message space I new it was coming did not know it was here, nice.

I like to start by saying it was very nice to see most of the people that have been coming to see The Funky Meters play over the last ten + years and I was sorry to not see the rest.

I want to thank My friends Art, Zig & Leo for being who their are, and I love playing with them, Saturday I saw some things happen on stage that I have not with these players up to then, Zig going for it and signing of the top of his head, things he did so great when we were kids, I do hope he keep it coming that's the sh--.

For those Funky Meters fans that have stayed away, all I can say is, that I see my friends and play with them in PBS and they are doing very well.

will check in often
porter, jr.

RedErtai starstarstarstarstar Thu 4/27/2006 10:34PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Saw both Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk and PBS when they came through Athens, and both were amazing. PBS suffered from a shitty soundboard guy at the Georgia Theater, and still managed to put on one of the best shows I've seen there in 3 years of concerts, and Dumpstaphunk played the 40 Watt (with little promotions, unfortunately a trend with jam-scene bands and that venue) and it was crazy amazing. There's a band that can put on a full show. Tragically, neither was taped, but the memories will live forever. Hopefully, one day the Meters proper will come this way, and I'll be able to view the funk bomb that is The Meters in person.

nathanjrod Sun 4/30/2006 09:45AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

nathanjrod

mkane,

It's Nathan Rodriguez - thanks for all the info. I agree with you that the sound mix with respect to the instruments was great - it wasn't my intention to rip on the sound. I had to mention the vocals, and I completely stand behind my assessment. After speaking with numerous attentive people in my immediate area, EVERYONE agreed they couldn't make out what the guys were saying. If you'll look at the band's website that you gave the link to, you can see that other fans have expressed this exact opinion about the Denver show as well. You seem to be close to the band, so perhaps the sound was different where you were positioned during the show (operating the soundboard?), but I've gotta take exception when you call me out on an inaccurate review - I walked into the Fillmore with an open mind and have seen enough shows to be relatively secure in my assessment of the sound mix. Don't get me wrong - everyone had a great time, and it was a fun show - thanks for the input, but I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with ya on this one.

delete_me165 starstar Sun 4/30/2006 01:54PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Thanks for the review but it was a little heavy on the background info and light on the actual show review. Not sure how you could miss "The Handclapping Song," George sitting w/ Art for a sick jam where they were just destorying the pocket, and Art getting everyone back out on stage for the mostly vocal "Iko Iko." But I guess since you didn't really know who Leo was a few weeks ago at Galactic, it could be expected.

The show was for the ages for those that weren't there. The Funky Four are as tight as ever. YA YOU RIGHT!

EVILFUNK starstarstarstarstar Mon 5/1/2006 09:36AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

EVILFUNK

anyone make the sf show? how about Zig's jungle groove during Jungle Man? evidence that the Meters influenced those who eventually influenceed them. great stuff! they should sell live recordings of thier shows like SCI does... they would profit big- independantly - and it would help them build a bigger jam following...

ezzulus starstar Mon 5/1/2006 02:14PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

ezzulus

I couldn't disagree more with this review. In my opinion this was one of the most disappointing shows ever at The Fillmore. For one, the amount of people in the venue was extremely disappointing...for a 3,600 capacity venue to sell only 600 tix, attempt to give out hundreds more for free, and only have approximately 1,000 show up and support Conscious Alliance and the City of New Orleans is abhorrent.

I can only assume by George's message above, that this turnout negatively affected The Meters. They were flat, lacking energy and while these guys are not "spring chickens," this "Original Meters" show lacked the originality and musicality of any "funky meters" show (with Russell Batiste and Brian Stoltz) that I have seen over the past several years. This was a poor show.