PBS | 10.12.07 | Baton Rouge, LA

Words by: Aaron Lafont

PBS :: 10.12.07 :: Chelsea’s Café :: Baton Rouge, LA

PBS by Pamela Marinez
When it comes to side projects, most are undertaken with great ambitions – crossing over to new audiences, escaping previously established images, accomplishing personal goals – but relatively few are created solely for the sake of music. One exception to the aforementioned purposes is Porter-Batiste-Stoltz (PBS), an outgrowth of the Funky Meters, comprised of George Porter Jr. (bass), Russell Batiste (drums), and Brian Stoltz (guitar). These longtime mates have not only fortified the backbone of the New Orleans music scene, filling out such acts as The Meters, the Neville Brothers, Harry Connick Jr., Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, but also accompanied a virtual who’s who of rock icons including Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Robbie Robertson, David Byrne and Paul Simon, just to name a few. Yet, when PBS converge, individual accolades become insignificant as the trio joins together with one objective in mind – music. And whether it’s in front of a festival crowd or a room full of fans (as was the case at Chelsea’s Cafe), PBS remains dedicated to spontaneous creation.

Given the nature of the group and its members, many would expect a funk-heavy set drawing primarily from their Meters background, but even though New Orleans funk may be at the core of PBS, they’re no mere retread of their past. At Chelsea’s, the opening number, “Cissy Got the Blues,” perfectly illustrated their musical approach – staying true to their roots while taking the music to another level – using the classic hook from the Meters’ “Cissy Strut” as a launching pad for a psychedelic, blues freakout. That led into the crunchy syncopation of “All We Wanna Do (Is Get Funky with You Tonight)” from their 2005’s Expanding the Funkin’ Universe. After cutting loose for a few tunes and getting the crowd into the beat of their gritty, bayou grooves, PBS dropped a seriously unexpected but very welcome surprise, an absorbing cover of Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them” > “Any Colour You Like.” Porter’s meaty basslines, replete with long, thick notes, created deep pockets for Batiste’s rhythm and Stoltz’s sailing solos, which gradually rose to the point of transcendence on the instrumental “Any Colour You Like.” Other first set highlights included the thundering “I Get High (Every Time I Think About You)” and the organic “Moving to the Country,” two Porter originals from his recently released album, It’s Life.

George Porter Jr. – PBS by Pamela Marinez
The second set picked up right where the first left off, building upon Deep South funk, infusing it with unfathomable improvisation and taking it on a long, twisted ride. It began with a back-woodsy, honky-tonk jam that locked onto the doo-wop of native New Orleanian Lee Dorsey’s “Working in a Coal Mine,” a track the Meters originally backed in 1966. As the night progressed, it became apparent that Stoltz had entered into another dimension, delivering the best guitar work I’ve seen since catching Richard Thompson earlier this summer. Saying that he combined the finesse of David Gilmour with the precision of Dickey Betts and the virtuosity of Jimmy Herring would be an unfair, unimaginative compliment that would only serve to detract from the scope of Stoltz’s originality.

Stoltz’s guitar overwhelmed the crowd as Porter and Batiste were right in step, instinctively pushing the boundaries of each song to the sonic brink. After a maddening jam session complete with round robin solo swapping, the trio launched into a feedback drenched, wah-wah driven cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic.” Next came the evening’s most mind bending moment. As Batiste and Stoltz struck into what appeared to be another Floydian fugue, Porter began blasting the guitar solo from Neil Young’s “Down by the River” on his bass while his compadres complemented his pulse with the rhythmic underpinnings of “Breathe in the Air.” That track coalesced into the blues staple “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll),” a song recorded by both Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan but originally the signature tune of legendary New Orleans blues master, Earl King. Keeping with the Hendrix theme, the trio lit into the surging melody of Band of Gypsys’ “Them Changes.” Later, PBS sealed the evening with a smooth exclamation point, sending the Baton Rouge crowd home with the haunting chill of Curtis Mayfield’s “Here But I’m Gone.”

With an overabundance of over hyped bands touring out there, seeing a band that shares its initials with the Public Broadcasting Service probably wouldn’t even cross the mind of most fair weather music fans, but serious concertgoers should take note. PBS is a group like no other. Comprised of members who forged their reputations piloting arguably the foremost funk outfit of all time, not to mention recording and touring behind a list of musical luminaries a mile long, they have nothing left to prove. Their skills are unquestionable and their chemistry, unshakable. They are simply good friends who enjoy grooving together for music’s sake regardless of place and time. And, perhaps, therein lies the explanation as to why their jams are unlike anyone else around.

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