[20 August 2013]
South Lake Tahoe is gorgeous in the summertime and it’s even better when some of the greatest musicians in the world are on hand for evening entertainment. Such is the case at the end of July with Vermont jam-rockers Phish in town for two shows at Harvey’s Outdoor Arena, followed by an array of aftershow parties for the late night party people. Lovers of old school funk were delighted when the Meter Men announced that their long-awaited California debut would follow tonight’s Phish show. The Phish Nation has taken over the town and the good vibes are everywhere.
“I think it’s great that Phish is coming back now that we know about Phish,” Harrah’s and Harveys Director of Entertainment John Packer told Tahoe Onstage. “The first time out (two years ago) we weren’t too sure. We knew who they were, of course, and that they were a great band but we weren’t sure about 9,000 people a day descending upon the place. But it was great. The Phish fans are just terrific fans, real music lovers. So we were really happy when they wanted to come back after being here just two years ago.”
Phish fans are indeed serious music lovers, many of whom like to keep the good times rolling by seeing another band play after Phish. This reputation draws other bands to schedule shows around Phish’s tour. Here in Tahoe fans find the Meter Men at Harrah’s for an aftershow party right across the street from tonight’s Phish show—“#winning”, as Charlie Sheen would say. The band features three-quarters of the original Meters, the legendary New Orleans funk kingpins whose impact on the modern music scene goes deeper than many know. Phish fans have come to love Robert Palmer’s ultra funky “Sneakin Sally Through the Alley,” a staple of the Phish repertoire since 1997. But how many fans know that the Meters were Palmer’s backing band on the original studio recording? Those who do are drawn to Harrah’s tonight like a moth to a funky flame.
Meters keyboardist Art Neville has apparently retired from touring, but drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, bassist George Porter Jr., and guitarist Leo Nocentelli have kept the groovy jams going these past couple years under the Meter Men name. The band went “Phishing” with help from none other than Phish keyboardist Page McConnell, who filled the keyboard slot in a handful of highly praised shows over the past year. John “Papa” Gros from New Orleans band Papa Grows Funk is on the keys tonight, though many of the 500 plus fans in attendance are probably hoping for a guest appearance by McConnell. But that would merely be icing on the cake with this band.
The Meter Men hit the stage shortly before midnight with the instrumental “Here Come the Meter Men”, an apt opener. Classics like “Fire on the Bayou” and “Funkify Your Life” deepen the groove to get the dance party into full swing. The rhythm section of Porter and Modeliste is one of the most influential in music history and the dynamic duo remains on the top of its game. Phish fans can certainly relate to “Funkify Your Life”, basically a Phish motto since 1997 when the band evolved its sound in more of a groove-oriented direction . Nocentelli’s funky riffage hits the spot over Zigaboo’s deep pocket beat, with the crowd reveling in the groovy goodness.
The room is still filling up with some fans clearly running a bit late, probably due to general socializing of which there is much to do here in the Tahoe late night scene. But as the crowd grows, the band seems to dig deeper into the grooves. Zigaboo crushes both the skins and the vocals on “Just Kissed My Baby” and “Africa”, with the latter anthem cranking up the rock factor on one of the band’s most powerful tunes. But the best is still to come. The band soon takes a short break and when it returnsx, the room is full and everyone is ready for action.
The band digs into the extensive Meters catalog for the super groovy “Doodle Loop”, a deep cut to open the set. “The world is a little bit under the weather, and I’m not feeling too good myself,” sings Zigaboo in a cathartic manner that also recalls Dr. John’s “Feelin’ Alright”. The New Orleans music scene has long had a socially conscious undercurrent, and Zigaboo is well known for doing his part to slip in thought provoking messages amongst the funky jams. The seminal “Cissy Strut” finds everyone getting down on the good foot, with Zigaboo’s crisp snare drum sounding so tight and Gros going deep on the organ solo while Nocentelli delivers a clinic of funk guitar. A staple cover of the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” hits another high water mark, as the show seems to keep getting better and better as the band and crowd synch in with each other.
When the band launches into the epic rhythm and blues of “It Ain’t No Use”, time seems to stand still. The studio track from the Meters’ 1974 Rejuvenation album clocked in at over 11 minutes, something of a landmark statement in an era when the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band and Santana were pretty much the only bands known to stretch out. It’s got a bluesier vibe than the Meters are generally known for, but with a deep groove and some of Nocentelli’s finest playing. The underrated guitarist has been one of the best in the business for decades and he shines on the extended jam here, with the crowd loving every minute. The quartet locks in for a supreme jam on the tune about an irresistible infatuation that finds the elusive x-factor coalescing for an extended dosage of musical magic.
There’s no guest appearance from McConnell, but it doesn’t matter because the Meter Men have delivered the goods. The band concludes the evening with the perfect encore in the classic “Hey Pocky A-Way”, a tune that sums up the lifestyle of both the old school New Orleans music scene and the modern jam rock scene where fans will travel many a mile on the quest for a transcendent show.
“Feel good music, I’ve been told, it’s good for the body and it’s good for your soul,” sings Zigaboo over one of the greatest good time grooves in music history. It’s a deep truth that sums up a beautiful harmonic convergence between the Meters from New Orleans and Phish from Vermont on a splendid summer night in South Lake Tahoe.