Porter Batiste Stoltz Serve Up N'Awlins Funk in Denver
Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
February 22, 2008
Is it just me, or is Denver getting to be a funky town? Maybe it's a new funky lifestyle: New Orleans style. Friday night the New Orleans power/funk trio of Porter, Batiste, Stoltz constructed groove after fortified groove over the course of two sets and about two and half hours of playtime.
PBS's funk roots run deep. Bassist George Porter was a member of the Meters for many years. Russell Batiste on drums and Brian Stoltz on guitar later joined up for the band's reincarnation as the Funky Meters. Along the way, the three have backed a list of this country's top musicians longer than the Mississippi. When Art Neville left the Funky Meters to spend more time with his family (the Neville Brothers), the remaining three lit out on their own.
While the Nevilles' and PBS's strains of funk have much in common, the main difference is the flexibility the trio format provides for PBS. The Neville Brothers were an eight-piece band when I saw them last summer. While that gives them a big sound, it can limit spontaneity because all those instruments have to stay coordinated. PBS, on the other hand, can let things ebb and flow, morph and re-morph and generally slink from one groove to the next.
A comparison to Medeski, Martin and Wood seems tempting; there are many similarities, particularly with the ever morphing grooves. PBS, however, throws in vocals (by all three members), and therefore their sets seem a little more song-oriented. A better comparison might be with an ultra funky version of Gov't Mule. Both bands jam relentlessly, both play original compositions as well as refreshed covers of all sorts, both seem to have a nearly limitless repertoire, both play concerts tending to go for around two and half hours and both feature extremely high levels of musicianship. Cream is another power trio that comes to mindparticularly so Friday night when the band sometimes went into one of those jams with every member soloing at the same time.
Some of the cover tunes Friday night included "Us and Them," "Down by the River" and "When the Levee Breaks." Visualize, if you can, funky Pink Floyd, funky Neil Young, funky Led Zeppelin (or Memphis Minnie if you prefer). All were tossed in among original tunes like "I Get High (Every Time I Think About You)" and "All We Wanna Do (Is Get Funky With You)."
George Porter played piano and guitar before settling on bass, and it comes out in his playing. Far from being content merely to keep the beat, he was up and down the neck all night, putting the groove on and keeping every tune interesting. Stoltz was sometimes a one-man funk machine and, at other times, a hurler of lightning bolts a la Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn. Batiste on drums contributed the driving, funky beat and a whole lot more, ensuring that the band sounded a lot bigger than just three guys.