A Tale Of Two Meters Gigs
Earlier this year, the always amazing An Aquarium Drunkard had two rare Meters shows up for the download. As Justin said when he posted the Bottom Line show, live vintage recordings of the original Meters are hard to come by. These were the first I'd heard other than the gig they did at Paul and Linda McCartney's party out on the Left Coast in 1975, which was released commercially on CD by Rhino as Uptown Rulers! The Meters Live on the Queen Mary. The only other one I know of is a long lost LP called At Rozy's, featuring the band gigging back in the day at that New Orleans club. Many years ago, I passed on the only copy of that record I've ever seen, because it was going for $100.00 - put it down and walked away, because I thought that was ridiculously expensive (what do you suppose it would fetch now?), not to mention I didn't have the cash. I don't recall much else about that record other than I think it had kind of a cartoon cover. Anybody out there got a copy? I also have previously featured two songs from shows the Meters did with Dr. John around 1973, one from a Lake Charles (?) concert recording and one from the video of a Soundstage TV concert which also included Professor Longhair and Earl King. The Meters were essentially the backing band on those, though.
With three group members' birthdays this month, Art turning 70 on the 16th, George hittin' 60 on the 26th, and Zig 59 years young on the 28th, let's continue to celebrate with a couple of live cuts, both probably recorded in 1977.
Quality time: Leo, Cyril, Zig, Art, and George
MARDI GRAS SHOWBOATIN'
"Hey Pocky Way" (Nocentelli, Porter, Neville, Modeliste)
The Meters, live at the Showboat Lounge, 1/22/1977
If you just happen to be in the area, come out and see us. We're gettin' down funky. - Zigaboo Modeliste
First up is what seems to be the earlier of the two shows, recorded in January, 1977 at the Showboat Lounge, in the Fat City entertainment district of Metairie, the suburb just West of New Orleans. This was a live WNOE radio broadcast during Carnival season; and on the set list were several of the band's classic Mardi Gras faves, including this serving of supreme second line funk, based on a Mardi Gras Indian chant. The Meters called it "Hey Pocky A-Way" on their Rejuvenation LP (and Reprise 45); but it's shown here as it is sung, "Hey Pocky Way". They made this gig as a four-piece, even though Cyril Neville had been singing some leads and playing congas with them on albums starting with Fire On The Bayou, and on the big Rolling Stones tour they did. Even with that, some of the band still did not consider Cyril an official member; so it is not really surprising that he wasn't there, even as late as 1977. With the Meters, there were many bones of contention at play behind the scenes.
I guess it says a lot about where the Meters were in their career that, a decade in, after hit singles, numerous album releases - four on a major label at that point - and a tour fronting the Stones under their big buckle belts, they were playing a lounge in Fat City at Carnival time shoutng out to radio listeners to come by. There's something wrong with this picture. A gig is a gig and all; but I am a positive that this would not have been on their list of dream bookings this far into the game.
Still, there's always the music. Art and Zig shared the vocals on this one. Its insistent funk-sway groove, that Zig plays with a light touch, quickly gets into your system and induces rhythmic movement. Also, listen for the cool, unusual vamp they do at the end. Nice touch. [Sorry 'bout those digital hiccups on the back end, too. That's the way it came down the pipe.] To me, "Hey Pocky Way" epitomizes the feel good music it speaks of in the lyrics. Most definitely good for the body and soul. As Art says in the intro, "It's Mardi Gras time all the time, as far as we're concerned." Amen to dat.
LOOSE BOOTY AT THE BOTTOM LINE
"Africa" (Nocentelli, Porter, Neville, Modeliste)
The Meters,live at the Bottom Line, New York City, 1977
Then again, here they are playing the much more prestigious NYC Bottom Line later that same year. Talk about a disparity in venue quality*. This show, which has Cyril back in the ensemble, was full of monster grooves; and "Africa" is just a brief example. The added congas make Zig's jungle beats even more dense and motivational. They were truly channeling the Motherland all night, with Zig on lead vocal here. I don't know when in 1977 it was recorded, but obviously it was before they cut New Directions, their final LP, as they refer to the "current album" as Trick Bag (an album they pretty much detested, by the way, as Toussaint and Sehorn cobbled it together from out-takes and scratch vocals just to have something to sell while the band was touring in Europe). "Africa" was also on Rejuvenation, such a killer album, and was the B-side of their "Hey Pocky A-Way" single from 1974.
Although the grooves could obviously still be awesome, 1977 was the end of the road for the Meters, or at least the start of a very long break in the road. After years of ups and downs, being a revered cult band (= financially destitute) that never quite broke out to a wider audience took its toll. Conflicts within the band itself and with their management and producers robbed them of focus, energy, and the simple joy of performing. That year in San Francisco, they recorded what would turn out to be their swan song album, titled New Directions, with unintentional irony. Warner Brothers brought in soul and rock producer David Rubinson to oversee the project after Tousssaint and Sehron had lost the band's trust. Rubinson enlisted the Tower Of Power horn section for some added punch. But the Meters were not on good terms among themselves and went through a lot of turmoil just to decide to allow Cyril to add his vocal chops and percussion to the effort. The ultimate quality of the LP they left behind we'll leave to assess another day. But, right after the thing was released, on the eve of a big promotional TV appearance on Saturday Night Live, Art bailed on the band, taking Cyril with him to start the Neville Brothers with his other siblings, Aaron and Charles. Dropped by the label soon thereafter, the Meters dispersed, building a legendary status over the years as more and more people finally caught on to their innovative brilliance, through word of mouth, record collecting, and CD re-issues of their catalogue. Their official reunion at Jazzfest in 2005 and some subsequent concerts fulfilled the lifelong wish of many (yours truly included) to see and hear them again, or for the first time, live. For those of you who still never have had the pleasure, I hope these couple of tracks are an enticing taste of what it was like. May we all get another chance.
* The Showboat could have been a nice club. I never was in it. If anybody else was, let me know. Still. . . .