Posted: Thurs., Aug. 17, 2006, 1:55pm PT
The Meters; Neville Brothers
By PHIL GALLO
Despite a reputation as the finest New Orleans funk band ever, the Meters didn't get their full due in the first go-round back in the 1960s and '70s. Their recordings for Josie, Island and Reprise were the pinnacle of dirty Southern funk in an era when glossy, uptown disco ruled the R&B roost, but they were admired by the likes of Paul McCartney and Robert Palmer, who both hired them as sidemen. It's shocking how much better the Meters sound as a whole than any of these musicians do leading their own bands playing the same timeless material.
The quartet had a simmering feud for nearly three decades that they patched up after Katrina hit, and Wednesday's concert at the Hollywood Bowl was their 11th gig together in the last nine months.
They stretched out on songs such as "Cissy Strut" (one of their two top 40 singles), "Look Ka Py-Py" and songs that organist Art Neville took with him to the Neville Brothers after the Meters split in 1976, "People Say" and "Hey Pocky Way."
While the songs remain the same, their sound retains its density and drive due to Art's steady and even ferocious organ playing and George Porter Jr.'s bass playing, which fills gaps the way the best reggae players have done. Zigaboo Modeliste, as good a drummer as the rock world has seen, is inventive and inspiring; at times, he creates the illusion of a backbeat and goes his merry way, filling in spaces with deft attacks on the tom-toms or riding a cymbal, seemingly never duplicating himself during a song except when absolutely necessary.
Guitarist Leo Nocentelli has dramatically altered his sound, going for a hard rock-meets-soul style; technique's far flashier than his swampy or scratchy sounds he on the band's legendary records. The Bowl's screens displayed Nocentelli's dazzling fretwork, and seeing his effort helped adjust the ears to a sound that had more in common with the Isley Brothers than New Orleans.
Band closed with a sultry slice of soul from '74, "It Ain't No Use," which a contempo radio programmer could put on the air today alongside Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" without a single listener batting an eye. Their music, while it has a distinct sense of place, was quite ahead of its time.
Art, who continues to struggle with back problems and walked across the stage with a cane, did double duty, appearing with his brothers, nephews and a few hired hands. The Nevilles far surpassed their tepid 1997 Bowl appearance by blending just enough uptempo numbers with the ballads of Aaron, who has an album of vintage soul covers due in stores Sept. 19.
The angelic-voiced bear of a man turned in a spine-tingling rendition of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" and followed with a reggae-tinged spin on Bill Wither's "Ain't No Sunshine" and a perfectly calm version of his 1967 hit "Tell It Like It Is."
Band was less successful with a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" that was too far removed from the original and not close enough to Neville funk. As if to satisfy the entire crowd with a clever medley, they played the popular New Orleans street parade rhythm and sang several of the songs associated with it --"Big Chief," "Brother John," "Iko Iko" and "Jambalaya."