Photos & Review | Lettuce James Brown Tribute | New York
Words by: Chadbyrne R. Dickens
Lettuce :: 9.18.13 :: Stage 48 :: New York, NY
Check out a full review after the photo gallery…
“Know we need it, soul power, We got to have it, soul power, Know we want it, soul power, Got to have it, soul power, Give it to me, soul power” -James Brown
On a cool crisp autumn evening in New York City, soul act Lettuce brought the heat and put the fun back in funk for a bombastic and energetic two-hour display of contagious relentless rhythms. The joyous romp saw a band at the top of their game as they played a set of originals as well as an impressive and comprehensive set of covers by The Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown. Live For Live Music presented the sold-out show at the recently opened 1,200+ capacity Stage 48 venue in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday, September 18th.
Too often people mistake R&B, soul or dance music as funk. In fact few musical outfits today actually bring the bonafide funk proper. Veteran stalwarts Dumpstaphunk and Galactic, along with newcomers like Turkuaz, consistently duke it out for supremacy, but ultimately Lettuce reigns supreme as the Kings of the genre. They perform in the respected funk pantheon tradition of Parliament and Sly and the Family Stone. Lettuce proves to be the real deal and currently best define today’s funk experience. Any Lettuce fan would accede that the most successful manner in which to showcase their funk-laden talents to a crowd full of funksters and funkateers is an inspired James Brown set. Kunj Shah, President of Live For Live Music, suggested to the band that they do “more than just a normal Lettuce show” and planted the first seed of a set featuring James Brown covers.
The core members of Lettuce met while attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston nearly two decades ago. In fact, drummer Adam Deitch and guitarist Adam Smirnoff were initially introduced at a summer program at the music school when they were only 16 years old. As a struggling up and coming band, the members would go to various venues and beg for an opportunity to perform by clamoring, “Let us play! Let us play!” and the eclectic band moniker was born. Lettuce is the formidable talents of Eric Krasno (guitar), Adam Deitch (drums), Neal Evans (keys), E.D. “Jesus” Coomes (bass), Adam “Schmeans” Smirnoff (guitar), James Casey (tenor sax), Ryan Zoidis (bari sax), Nigel Hall (vocals) and Eric Bloom (trumpet).
Nigel Hall, prepared to perform as James Brown, was slated to play as the opening act also, but his gig was cancelled early on performance day. Hall was not ill or facing any adversity, it was rather a smart calculated move to save himself for his vital role in the Lettuce performance exclusively in order to make it more special. The band has been playing James Brown songs sporadically including “I Feel Good” and “Super Bad” at the Bear Creek Festival and “There Was a Time” last winter at the 9:30 Club, but this was the first time they have paid homage to “Mr. Dynamite,” aka “the hardest working man in show business,” with a complete set. Fortuitously, legend spinster and Bronx native, DJ Logic, admirably filled in with an upbeat and fiery set to begin the night with a bouncy bang.
After a cacophony of overt anticipation, former New York Knicks shooting guard John Starks commenced the hyped-up proceedings just after 9 p.m., “let me introduce the funkiest damn band in the world!” Then Lettuce attacked four songs before Nigel Hall was introduced as James Brown. “In the Middle” was led by a bass line that was thick, fat and frenetic in fueling the worked up crowd to get down on the dance floor. The early highlight was an inspired version of “Do What I Have to Do” with frequent collaborator and special guest, Alecia Chakour, the pipes belting blues siren, on vocals. Finally, Hall was introduced to much fanfare and the band dug into a mesmerizing and intense 11-song run of James Brown tunes that contained varied selections from his diverse and storied catalog. With his patented clear voice and smooth delivery, Hall began his stage assault with a powerful cover of the classic “Superbad” and poignantly delivered the lyrics made notorious by Eddie Murphy’s parody years ago, “I jump back, I wanna kiss myself!” The energy from the packed house, complete with hoards of rabid fans hanging and drooling from the balcony rafter, obviously pushed the band to dig in deeper. The audience shared the most adulation during the raucous “Papa Got a Brand New Bag” segue into “I Feel Good,” perhaps because the two tunes are Brown’s most popular works but also because the band delivered them at such a high-octane level.
The arrangements were complex, but not overly complicated. Adam Deitch’s hard-hitting on the skins reminded us why he is considered one of the most talented in the business. Neal Evans again dominated the ivories and exuded “coolness” in his stylish black leather jacket and bling necklace. The horn section, full and ripe, added essential layered depth for a sound with a greater depth of scope. The pace of the music was extremely up-tempo and this served as an impetus for patrons to jam out. The only challenge with an evening of Brown covers was that the two gifted guitarists onstage didn’t have an opportunity to improvise or show off their respective guitar chops. However, they would have a chance to do that in the regular Lettuce set. Nigel Hall effectively played the iconic showman, as he didn’t try to mimic or emulate the master. There were few “oohs” and none of the famous “Ha’s!” Lettuce doesn’t supply clichéd goose bumps, but rather through their euphoric pulse they pleasantly heighten sensitivity of all five senses. Legs sweep, heads bob and arms flail with involuntary agreement to the contagious gyrating groove.
Having played for 2 decades, Lettuce’s presentation is a seamless display of a tight cohesive unit that knows each other’s tendencies and sensibilities. Many of the band members have been cutting their teeth in various respected side projects of late. Deitch leads Break Science, Smirnoff forges ahead with his Schmeans and his Expanded Consciousness outfit, Evans performs with Soulive and his Trio, Krasno plays in Soulive and often picks up the bass for Tedeschi Trucks Band, Hall tours with the Warren Haynes Band and Casey jams in Trey Anastasio’s band. Adam Smirnoff, who claims with a straight face that he would be a table tennis champion if he didn’t play music, stated, “We don’t get distracted from the focus of Lettuce due to side projects, because we all remain on a unified mission.” As long as the band continues to stay on that mission, one is guaranteed a plethora of future festive dance parties. On this night, they helped everyone in attendance feel good -just the way we knew they would.
- Set List:
JamBase | Soul Funk Power
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