Funkifying our lives once again.
“We’re a little older. A little fatter. Still black. And still funky.”
Art Neville, onstage, April 23, 2005
Like I said, it was an intimate affair, 20 – 30 thousand of us squeezed into and overflowing the site of the Sprint stage, the second largest venue at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Meanwhile, at the largest, the Acura Stage (our heritage has become a victim of corporate branding), James Taylor was doing something completely different for another near-capacity crowd. Seems it takes all kinds to make the Fest financially viable. At least he kept the mere curiosity seekers away from our congested congregation of the faithful, blessed with righteous sounds of the hometown heroes, the Meters, and some of the most incredibly cool, dry, breezy air I’ve experience in my 25 years of attendance.
Doing right around a dozen songs in their 90+ minute set, the Meter men dished their groove out in heavy, dance-inducing doses with visible enthusiasm, good humor, love, and inspired musical synergy. It sounded as if they’d never stopped playing together; as they threw down with power and authority. To be sure, this was no nostalgia act. The song selection covered some of the highlights of their catalog plus a couple of obscurities (“He Bite Me” and “Doodle Loop: The World Is A Little Bit Under The Weather” with a bit of Zig’s new song, ”Welcome To New Orleans”, grafted onto it). Just hearing the band on recordings doesn’t prepare you for the visceral strength of their live sound: propulsive, wailing, and hugely Fonky. The offshoot band, the Funky Meters comes close; but it takes Zig and Leo to make it to truly higher ground. Another treat in the set was the change-up: a smooth, hip rendition of “Be My Lady” with George Porter, Jr. doing one of the best vocals of his career. And I was so glad to be there for it with my lady.
I really couldn’t imagine a more perfectly agreeable way to hear the original unit of four regrouped for this all too brief live set. As the final encore notes of the “Hey Pocky A-Way” second line strut ended, the sun sank behind a giant live oak tree.
The festival released a double CD set of the performance by the next afternoon; and I was lucky enough to get one. I am almost certain a DVD will follow at some point, but will merely be a virtual shadow of those moments. As exceptional as some of the other performers (Jon Cleary, Charles Teomy from Recife, Brazil, and Irma Thomas spring immediately to mind) were last weekend and will be, I’m sure, this weekend, when I go back for more, the climax of Jazzfest happened last Saturday evening. It’s untouchable. As they left the stage one of the Meters said, “See you next time.” We can only hope.
PS - Yeah, we got pretty close to the front, thanks to our friend Randy, who held on to that spot all day for us. I should have taken a shot of the sea of grooving bodies behind us; but I barely remembered to take the one you see.