Any Saturday night in Los Angeles is going to have a plethora of entertainment options, but it’s always a special treat to catch one of the most influential music masters of the 20th century in an intimate setting. As the drummer for The Meters, Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste is one of those players. The New Orleans funk band’s influence on modern music is immense, and the original quartet has even reunited for some festival gigs this year. Catching Zigaboo in action at a small classy club like The Mint is a marquee event and tonight’s show caps off the venue’s month long “Funktober Fest” weekend showcase series in top style.
The club has a capacity of around 150, making this a particularly intimate party. Zigaboo has been on the planet for 62 years now at this time, but age hasn’t diminished his skills. On the contrary, the drummer known for helping to pioneer “second-line funk” seems as if he’s aging like a fine wine. He’s still throwing down those funky beats like it’s as natural as breathing, and he also has a strong new album out with his 2011 release, New Life. It’s got the classic funky sound Zig is known for, but it’s got a fresh vibe too as well as some inspiring lyrics.
When the band hits the stage around 10:30 p.m., Zig tells the audience that “It’s all about the pocket” and proceeds to lead his cohorts through a high-energy first set that has the crowd consistently getting down on the good foot. “Funky Miracle” is an early highlight, with a bluesy vibe that somewhat recalls Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle”. But this Meters jam is a classic in its own right and it’s easy to hear how modern funk and acid jazz stalwarts like Galactic and the Greyboy Allstars were deeply influenced by The Meters.
Zig has pulled some local ringers into service for the gig, employing the core of the Jimmy Kimmel Band in bassist Jimmy Earl, guitarist Toshi Yanagi and keyboardist Jeff Babko, ace players all. Then there’s lead guitarist Greg “Gee Mack” Dalton, another LA pro who tears it up on a melty solo here and time and again throughout the night. The Meters material is the main draw, but Zig has also been knocking out great solo material for the past decade. The title track from New Life is superbly funky anthem about moving onward and upward from a broken relationship. If you’ve been through a recent breakup, this is your song. “Human Race” is another winner from the new album, a mid-tempo workout with bluesy riffs over a tight beat and Zig singing out for “peace in the human race”.
“We all 99 percent of us respect the human race,” says Zig at the end, winning a big cheer in referencing the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement that may yet provide hope for the human race. Everyone present loves the funk, but it’s this socially conscious vibe that has long set Modeliste and most of his musical brethren from the Big Easy apart in the musical community. The belief that music can help affect positive change in the world was a part of the emerging counterculture when The Meters came of age in the ’60s, and it’s truly refreshing to see musicians like Modeliste continuing to carry that torch here in the 21st century.
“Standing In Your Stuff” is another ultra-funky number, a tune from Zig’s first solo album in 2000 that keeps the crowd moving and grooving in delight. The energy only continues to rise as the band moves into The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing”, one of the greatest funky soul songs of all time.
“We’re not all the same… but we love funky music”, says Zig in another plea for universal togetherness. He also mentions being glad to be in California (he now resides in Oakland), referencing an affection for the Golden State’s legal medical marijuana movement. The sweet leaf and the funk go together like peanut butter and jelly, so it’s no surprise that this comment elicits another cheer from the happy-go-lucky audience. The Meters’ “Just Kissed My Baby” closes out the set with another classic jam and it’s a joyful setbreak after the funky catharsis that has just concluded.
It’s a casual scene on the sidewalk out front during set break with fans having a smoke and checking out the old school record store next door. But it’s soon back to the funk, with the band grooving out on “I Like It Like That” from Zig’s 2004 LP I’m on the Right Track. The set ignites with The Meters’ “Hey Pocky Way”, one of the all-time great New Orleans grooves. “Feel good music I’ve been told, good for the body and good for your soul,” sings Zig as the room gets down to a stellar extended jam. It’s a sentiment that the counterculture has long taken to heart, and it’s only too bad that more people don’t realize what a transformative effect such music can indeed havel. Just witness Zigaboo going strong at age 62, or Phil Lesh from the Grateful Dead still crushing it with Furthur at age 72.
“We’re gonna stay in The Meters’ book” says Zig by way of introducing the next tune, giving the fans more of what they want with “Africa”, another of the band’s top classics. “Shake What You Got” continues to deliver the New Orleans funky flavor, with Zig again touching on the feel good music theme with another of his strong solo tunes. If you happen to be celebrating a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary, this show is just what the doctor ordered with one feel good jam after another.
The Meters’ “People Say” serves as another great jam vehicle, with it’s classic funk groove and ever relevant lyrics like “Powers of today so pretty darn confused, Giving everybody in the world the blues… People say, people say, have I got a right to live?”. It’s a popular sentiment during these increasingly turbulent times. But the fact that musical masters like Zigaboo are still delivering the message when it’s most needed should offer hope to those who can bend their ear to hear the tune. When the show is over, it’s a good three hours after it began, which could shame many modern bands that call it a night after 90 minutes. But then most of those bands don’t have the repertoire of a living legend like Zigaboo Modeliste.