Lettuce lights up San Diego with otherworldly dance party.
There aren’t a lot of bands where the drummer is considered a leader, much less the main songwriter. But then again, there are few drummers in modern music with the Jedi-level percussion skills of Adam Deitch. There are also few bands who explore the outer realms of the funk-iverse like Lettuce. The band’s website even references the group’s funk-centric nature in their URL, Lettucefunk.com.
EDM fans might recognize Deitch more as the man behind Break Science and as the drummer of Pretty Lights, where he’s teamed with DJ Derek Vincent Smith to ignite some of the planet’s hottest dance parties of the past five years. There was some legit controversy when Smith ditched Deitch in 2011 to tour as a solo act with no drummer, before coming to his senses and bringing Deitch back along with a full-band lineup in 2013. But Deitch keeps plenty busy with a variety of projects. Deitch formed Lettuce over two decades ago with fellow classmates at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston and the group has now become an all-star outfit in the modern funk world.
“I was in a practice room at 16 with Kraz, Zoidis, Shmeeans and Deitch and it all clicked,” says “lead” bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes in a band bio. “We all felt rhythms in similar ways. We were all about the pocket from day one.” This type of attitude was rare in the early ‘90s when hard rock and grunge ruled the music scene, but the men of Lettuce seem like old souls across the board. Yet at the same time, this is a band that’s constantly looking to push the music forward with tight arrangements and adventurous improvisation aimed at getting the dance floor moving. Influences like James Brown, Funkadelic, Maceo Parker and the Meters are just the tip of the iceberg Lettuce with this band, with various psychedelic and classic rock vibes being mixed in, too.
The band landed at the Belly Up Tavern on a Thursday night, where they were greeted by an enthusiastic audience ready to let the good times roll. Galactic (another drummer-led band of universal-class funksters) had graced the same stage just eight days before and the locals were eager for more. San Diego may not have as large a scene or the classic venues of Los Angeles and San Francisco, but the city that legendary anchorman Ron Burgundy dubbed “the Whale’s Vagina” has a strong core of serious music fans who are always geared up to get down with funkateers like Lettuce.
“Salute” set a groovy tone early on with guitarists Eric Krasno and Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff comping funky riffage while saxman Ryan Zoidis and trumpeter Eric Bloom fired sharp blasts of melody over the top. The rhythm section of Deitch and Coomes was locked in from the start, with Deitch laying down those infectious tight beats to power the horns higher. “Bowler” featured a more psychedelic flavor with Krasno and Smirnoff amping up the lead guitar over some deep organ work from keyboardist Neal Evans.
Vocalist Alecia Chakour fronted the band for several tunes, bringing a bluesy Southern vibe to the deep groove of “Don’t Be Afraid to Try”, which encouraged listeners to be bold in following their dreams. The band cranked up the acid jazz flavor behind her on the up-tempo “Do it Like You Do”, then downshifted gears for Chakour to get more soulful on “The Sun”. The three tunes together showed the band’s diverse ability to groove all over the sonic landscape.
Lettuce cranked it back up with the title track from their 2002 debut album Outta Here. Bassist Erick Coomes said the title was a reference to baseball and the band knocked the tune out of the park on the funky jam. Evans’ B3 organ powered the groove while the horn players dazzled once again. “We’re gonna continue to let the funk flow, this is our rendition of a War tune,” said Coomes introducing the band’s instrumental cover of “Slipping Into Darkness”. It’s a way funkier arrangement than Widespread Panic’s down and dirty version that focuses on the song’s bluesier side. Here, the Lettuce horns played the vocal melodies while Deitch’s virtuoso percussion and Coomes’ funky lead bass turned the tune into another groove clinic.
Deitch was just plain crushing it on the up-tempo “Lettsanity”, an ultra-funky dance jam from the band’s 2012 album Fly that had the whole room getting down on the good foot. Krasno led the band into a more psychedelic space jam on the title track, with watery turquoise lights spinning around the room and reflecting off the great white shark with glowing red-eyes that hangs above the Belly Up’s bar. The spacey tune featured a Krasno trademark tease of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” before stretching into a deep jam across the space-time continuum.
Krasno continued to demonstrate his multi-dimensional skills by playing some keyboards on “Madison Square”, with some spacey synths that made it sound like an alien mothership was approaching. Deitch laid down some beats recalling his work with Pretty Lights, while the horns powered another hot groove as the band continued to gel down the stretch. Deitch and Coomes were left alone onstage for a smoking drum and bass jam during “By Any Smeens”, with Coomes throwing down a “Heartbreaker” tease before the rest of the band filtered back onstage to crank it up one more time to end the set.
“Thank you so much for raging with us. Until next time, peace!” Coomes said while bidding the fired up crowd good night. “Raging” has indeed become the trendy term to describe partying at a show with a high energy band, so it was appropo when Lettuce concluded the encore with “Sam Huff’s Flying Ragin’ Machine”. The turbo-charged funk rocker ignited the room one more time to end the show in triumphant style.