Meters – House Of Blues (Chicago, IL)
Over the past eleven years, a generation of jam-band kids were introduced to the syncopations of the Meters through the wrong band. The Funky Meters became the representatives of that earthy funk sound the original foursome created so organically in the late 1960s through the late 1970s. But while the Funky Meters — featuring replacements Brian Stoltz on guitar and Russell Batiste on drums — capitalized on the groove-minded fans the Phish era afforded, it was kind of like seeing Pink Floyd minus Rogers Waters. For those who like their i’s dotted, their t’s crossed and their original members playing the original songs, the Funky Meters were a suitable replacement, but never certifiable.
Four months before Katrina, the red-alarm headline out of the New Orleans musical community was the reunion of the founding four. It happened at the city’s annual Jazz & Heritage Festival, with the promise of more dates to follow. After the flood and a stint at the late-October Las Vegas festival Vegoose, the Meters arrived in Chicago for a two-night stand at the House Of Blues. Whoever made the decision to price tickets at $60 ended the outreach to young fans, which meant the band played mostly to older faces, and not enough of them at that.
The Meters may have directly influenced funk grandmasters James Brown and George Clinton, but the band itself was free of flash. The lead role was divvied up among all four players — keyboardist Art Neville, bassist George Porter Jr., guitarist Leo Nocentelli and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste. Even though they haven’t shared a stage in a quarter-century, they naturally assumed the roles they first established with each other in 1967.
This is still a tribe of ace session players who, on their signature instrumental “Cissy Strut”, could lock together for muddy grooves and heated endurance. It makes perfect sense that their catalogue would be renewed with the rise of hip-hop sampling. Not just improvisers, and not a conventional band either, the Meters demonstrated that their legacy was combining all the personality they had to create a singular sound.
Their two-and-a-half-hour set covered their many incarnations, from R&B instrumentalists to the original cut-and-paste cover band. After Modeliste led the band through “It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers, Neville slowed things down as the song transformed into the Professor Longhair classic “Go To The Mardi Gras”. Neville, 65, returned to his days as an early teen crooner in the 1950s by covering the Bread ballad “Make It With You” with boyish charm.
Modeliste and Porter shifted dynamics and were often reining in Nocentelli, who fired off solos featuring long sustained notes that paused between lengthy runs which could have dug holes into the frets. Meters signatures “People Say”, “Hey Pocky Way” and “Fire On The Bayou” flattened the occasional lulls with immediacy, all sung in union.
Katrina was hardly mentioned, other than Neville complaining, “I was on the road — and I’m still on the road.” But if he sounded trapped, this show was release.