If there is a better sight on earth than the New Orleans Funk legends the Meter(men)s) guitarist Leo Nocentelli taking a solo on Halloween, it is Leo Nocentelli taking a solo on Halloween, the night after a hurricane has wrecked havoc and let loose the dogs of war on New York's infrastructure (Helen suggested: "And in the death, as the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare"). Leo stood on the tip of the stage and he played notes and strummed his electric guitar very very quickly, so he sounded like he was playing chords but he wasn't. BB King's was holding a Halloween contest in-between two long Metermen (their new name) sets and the audience were dressed like everything from Sandy to Sandy and were in the mood to go crazy and man did they have the band for it. Only nyc could possibly spend the night after the worst hurricane in our recorded history partying with one of the greatest funk bands of all time.
While my days since Sunday's pre-'cane stranded me at home, were mostly just boring, writing, sleeping, and watching James Bond movies and my friends were at best losing electricity, at worse, losing their cars, their homes, and dealing with trees capsizing on the roofs of their houses, I was still going insane. So after an hours long journey into the City for work from my home in Queens, I decided to sleep in the office. With everything in the dark on 34th Street going down, I was very fortunate to fall upon the Meters playing at BB Kings on West 42nd Street. If I hadn't been planning to see the eventually cancelled Smashing Pumpkins October 31st gig at Barclays Center, I would have definitely been going any way.
The Meters are one of the greatest funk bands of all time, and three of the most important original members, Leo, drummer Joseph Modeliste and bassist George Porter Jr. (Art Neville left after a Stones tour in the early 1970s) in 2005, the various Metermen buried the hatchet and have played occasional special occassion concerts. The keyboard player in the Meters is like the drummer in Spinal Tap, in constant turnaround, but on Wednesday night they got a real good one, Page McConnell. I get asked why, if I hate Phish so much, I've seen them twice and I am going a third time,. The answer is simple: they are great musicians. I've never denied it. But I didn't realize how great till I saw Page hold his ground with the Meters last night. Playing interference between Porter and Leo, he took instrumental after instrumental reaching a height on "Africa", the first half zenith, which had Porter turning right towards him as he caught fire. Page was fast and powerful and with a drummer and bassist both capable of carrying the bottom, he has just as much freedom but under much more disciplined guidelines than he does with Phish. He was loose and tight. Perhaps the lack of a brass section forces everybody to be more concerned with the melody.
Plus, I was kinda wrong about the rhythm section. The syncopated rhythms might be carried by the bassist but the bottom is all the drummer "Zigaboo" Modeliste. Zigaboo has a real tough job and he handles it almost self-effacingly, he is never giving in to the beat, he travels on his stomach and he holds the band together where the other three players perform funkier than though beats. This band is so good at funk, Porter isn't influenced by Larry Graham. Everybody is influenced by Larry Graham, hell opening act Swift Technique bassist Jake Leshinsky was slapping his instrument like a paid up member of the Junior Graham League Of America, but Porter wasn't. Incidentally, Swift Technique claim red Hot chili Pepper as a major influence and Flea owes Porter a huge debt, Porter is an obvious influence.
Beyond its New Orleans rootsiness, the Meters are an odd first line funk band because, since forming in 1965, they have not gone along with the de-emphising of melody that should be so central. This is because of Porter, Porter plays melodies, he improvise on the melody and he follows Leo. They mirror each other in a manner the iconoclastic Bootsy Collins never ever would. If funk is down to have rhythm plays off each instrument, the Meters are about how syncopation can play off a melody (I wrote that line with the deep conviction I am putting it wrong but no idea how else to put it). The songs are long but they get to where they're going unlike, say Crazy Horses recent "Driftin' Back" which chases its tale for 27 minutes without actually going on. A problem I also have with Phish incidentally -too often it isn't worth the long strange trip.
The night was long as well and I left after the first set, dog tired at the bottom end of an extreme day. That would have been around 1030pm, though I heard the concert didn't end till two hours later.
I was tired sure, but the audience wasn't. They were boogieing hard all night long and the instrumentals never wandered from that syncopated rhythm at the heart of funk, invented by the likes of the Meter and alive and sizzling in the capable hands of the Metermen.