Spare, syncopated, and dripping with sausage grease, the sound of the Meters is one of the most distinctive and deeply grooved things you might hope to experience in your life. While its original four members only appear together a couple of times a year nowadays, last hitting LA in 2006, there are still occasional sightings of offshoot projects. Guitarist Leo Nocentelli has been playing around LA for years, and his appearance at the Mint this weekend, billed as The Meters Experience, promised a return to old-school New Orleans.
Nocentelli’s recent appearances, including that 2006 show at the Hollywood Bowl, have shown a very different guitar player than the one heard on the Meters’ albums. His earlier propensity for tight, juicy chicken-scratch rhythm parts has given way to a tendency to wail Hendrix-style. So even with a largely familiar set list that included such gems as “Cissy Strut” and “Fire On The Bayou”, it was a fairly different experience from the one you’d have while listening to Meters records.
At its best, the band resembled the onstage version of Funkadelic, making those riffs meatier, more appealingly grinding. His band are all guys with fusion chops who have no trouble wrapping around those deceptively simple arrangements, taking liberties and stretching them out. They could be hard without being plodding, heavy without losing the spring in their step. Nocentelli demonstrated how far he’s come as a soloist, peppering all the tunes with reinvented breaks, without losing that unmistakable rhythm flavor.
All the players are fantastic, and they’re sure not afraid to demonstrate it when the spirit strikes, which is apparently often. There were a few moments where the fancy musicianship threatened to overwhelm to groove; “Cissy Strut” does not really need a breakdown in 11/8 to spice it up. The more understated numbers, like a tense, simmering “People Say”, with drummer Ronnie Ciago keeping a firm, supple backbeat bubbling underneath a tightrope groove, worked effortlessly well.
Nocentelli’s web site shows him to be a busy man these days (oh to be in New Orleans for the weekend of May 5), balancing appearances with the Original Meters, Dr. John, and the Soul Rebel Brass band with his own gigs, and evidently wrapped a recording project a month ago. Given the strength of the spirit heard at the Mint show, expect to hear from him again soon, and prepare to get down when that moment arrives.
The Bonedaddys, LA-based “worldbeatniks” with a nearly thirty-year history behind them, led off the proceedings with an impressive set, at one point breaking into a pulsing, hypnotic cover of Fela Kuti’s “Zombie.” There’s not that many bands I’ve witnessed in LA that can actually get Angelenos to dance, but percussionist Mike Tempo has built himself a crew of experts in the art of shake inspiration.
Photos by Elise Thompson for the LA Beat; review by Bob Lee.