Often in modern popular music – especially that of the blues and roots flavour – the city of the music’s origin can become, in a way, another member of the band. It can become a silent but also very loud member, as the city’s voice, spirit and mojo can colour the music as much as any of the living, breathing human members involved. That city could be New York, London or Chicago – but more often than not that city is (yes, we are talking about voice, spirit and mojo) New Orleans.nola-1-267

Funk godfathers, The Meters, were that rare thing – a ‘muso’ band that gained huge everyday popularity from the start. Astounding musicians individually, they conjured an easy yet hard-hitting groove style which epitomised that Holy Grail of musicians: ‘loose-yet-tight’ (if you have to ask what that means you will, sadly, never know). Their hits, such as 1969’s ‘Cissy Strut’ and 1970’s ‘Look-Ka Py Py’ were instantly influential among musicians and yet equally a hit with people on the dancefloor as well (and greatly loved by hip-hop samplers such as LL Cool J, Run DMC, NWA and, well… everybody). This is down to a large degree to The Meters’ New Orleans origins – it seems an unwritten law of any music that emanates from the city known as ‘The Big Easy’ that if the people don’t dig it, it ain’t worth a fig. This applies to artists from Fats Domino through to Dr John The Night Tripper and today’s Trombone Shorty and jazz trumpeter Christian Scott.

On 5th May this year, the original Meters – keys man and vocalist Art Neville, guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter Jr., and drummer (the wonderfully named) Zigaboo Modeliste – reunited for a concert at New Orleans’ club Howlin’ Wolf. This was one of only a handful of times the original Meters had got together since splitting in 1977. (Apparently tickets to the Howlin’ Wolf show sold out in an hour and a half). I just want to say, God bless the person who decided to turn on the tape machine – the resulting Live Album is a gem.

fm-1-251The band tear into opener ‘Fire On The Bayou’, originally from the 1975 album of the same name, as if they have never been away. The four just love to play together – the vibe oozes from the speakers. Art Neville jokingly refers to the gig as “senior citizen funk” (adding that in five years it will be “food stamp funk”) but there is nothing remotely creaky or stiff-jointed about The Meters tonight.

In fact, this is the toughest i think i have ever heard them sound. Nocentelli’s guitar is cranked and his solos are, as Buddy Guy used to say “so funky you can taste it”. Modeliste is utterly in the pocket and together with George Porter Jr – especially on a churning groove such as ‘He Bite Me (The Dragon)’ or the iconic ‘Cissy Strut’ – prove yet again why they were the most imitated funk rhythm section of the 70s.

Once the band get on a groove they don’t want to let go. The three-song medley that begins with the laidback ‘Africa’, turning into ‘Look-Ka Py Py’ and then morphing into ‘Funky Miracle’ is 22:17 of pure, undiluted funky joy. Hits like ‘Hey Pocky A-Way’ seem to turn the band on like the first time they jammed it in rehearsal (‘Hey Pocky A-Way’ stretches to a hot and sweaty nine-minutes-plus) and the closer ‘People Say’ goes to seventeen-and-a-half minutes – you can feel that The Meters just don’t want to let go.

The live recording is beautifully LIVE in every way – living, breathing, dancing its ass off – with nice verité touches like not editing back the band’s stage announcements and intros. You really feel as if you were there. The Meters don’t care about taste or restraint or any of that anaemic jazz-funk knitting – they invented this music and they will play it as heavy and dirty as they like.

The Meters Live at Howlin’ Wolf Album is available from https://www.munckmusic.com/wms/jazzfest/index.html

Check Katja Liebing’s fantastic gallery of shots from the actual Howlin’ Wolf gig here

Photos by Katja Liebing http://www.bluemoonphotography.me/#home

Published December 2012 on theorangepress.net

 

 

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