The Meter Men
September 11, 2014 Funkify your life
Get on down
You can be the funkiest one
In your town
That pretty much sums up the philosophy of the Meters and now the Meter Men. In the song "Funkify Your Life," they seem to be offering a suggestion for a lifestyle, or at least an attitude. And a noble suggestion it is. Certainly, we could all use a little more funk and a little less... uptightness, or something. Get syncopated, baby! Just keep in mind, however, as funky as you wanna get, as funky as you can get, as hard as you try; there's just no way you're going be the funkiest one in your town when the Meter Men come through. That's because these guys have the corner on the funk market. They are the supreme funksters. (A Funk Supreme!) They radiate funk. They exude funk. They sweat funk. They drip funk.
From the mid-60s into the 70s, the Meters churned out a continual stream of funk classics. They garnered respect from their fellow musicians, landing gigs like opening for the The Rolling Stones
and backing many other stars in the studio. Despite releasing singles and albums over a decade or so, they never made more than a small dent in the popular psyche. Their keyboard player, Art Neville
, left the band and joined with his siblings to form the Neville Brothers
which gained the type of popular acclaim the Meters certainly deserved, but never quite reached.
Since the Meters split in the 70s, the individual members have continued the funk tradition because, after all, once it gets in your blood, it's a permanent infection. They reformed a few times over the years for short periods. The current incarnation of the Meters is the Meter Men. Three of the original four band members are together and on the road: George Porter Jr.
on bass and vocals, Leo Nocentelli on guitar and vocals and Joseph Zigaboo Modelste on drums and vocals. John Gross
of Papa Grows Funk
is currently replacing Art Neville on keyboards.
Back when the Meters were recording, in the 60s and early 70s, their tunes ran about 3 or 4 minutes, as was the custom of the day for this type of music. Now, in the 21st Century and in concert, the Meter Men stretch out, way out. Thursday night's show at the Ogden Theater could be classified as a jam-funk performance with many of their tunes running 10 to 15 minutes and often morphing and blending into one another. Porter, for one, has been operating in that territory for years. Another one of his bands, Porter, Batiste and Stoltz ("PBS") has played the jam-funk for years. The same goes for the The Funky Meters
(basically PBS with Art Neville on keys).
The Meter Men funked it up over the course of their nearly two hour show with plenty of Meters classics including "Fire on the Bayou," "People Say," "Funkify Your Life," "Cissy Strut" and "Hey Pocky Way" as the encore.
Porter stood front and center and smack dab in the middle of the funk vortex. He obviously had a great time preforming and acted as the band leader most of the night, signaling changes mid-tune and chopping the neck of his bass for the solid endings to tunes; the ones that endings anyway. All night long, he laid down a foundation that was both solid and greasy at the same time. Modelste locked in with Porter, punctuating that greasy foundation. He let out occasional animal-like yelps and urged on the band and the crowd with exhortations like "come on!" Nocentelli wailed all night with numerous supersonic runs and when he wasn't soloing, deepened the funk with scratchy rhythms.
Gros is the new guy, playing the Hammond B-3 and electric piano. He went after his task with the concentration of somebody taking the bar exam for the fourth time; except without the panic. As he pounded out chords on the electric keyboard set on top of the organ, his hands were clearly visible and looked to be the size of catchers' mitts. Not a single pitch or chord got by him all night. The Meter Men were through Denver about a year and a half ago and they had Page McConnell of Phish
holding down the keyboard bench at that time. He did a great job in that role and probably sold some extra tickets. Gros, however, seemed like a more logical choice to step in for the aging Art Neville. Papa Grows Funk has been dishing out funk of the same magnitude as the Meters for well over a decade, often covering Meters' classics.
So while the four Meter Men individually spewed funky licks as naturally as most people exceed speed limits, it was the combination of the players that put the funk meter in orbit. Neck bones throughout the theater were in danger of being overworked when even one of these guys played, but all of them together created a swirling sauce of syncopated sassiness.