LOS ANGELES – It’s a Friday night in the City of Angels and there’s a king of New Orleans funk about to throw it down. As drummer of The Meters, Zigaboo Modeliste helped pioneer an influential funk sound that has reverberated across America and into the cosmos for decades. It’s a blessing from the music gods that fans can still catch such a kingpin in action well into his 60s. But that’s part of what this music is about as Zig sings in the uber-classic “Hey Pocky Way” – “Feel good music I’ve been told, it’s good for the body, it’s good for the soul”.
There’s something about this music that does seem to act as an elixir of sorts, so it’s no surprise to see Modeliste and his bandmates back in action here. This gig is serving as sort of a warm-up for Modeliste, before he jets back East to do a handful of gigs billed as The Metermen. Those shows will feature Modeliste with old band mates George Porter, Jr., and Leo Nocentelli, along with Phish’s Page McConnell on keyboards. New Orleans musicians have never been shy about playing with anyone and everyone who feels the music on a deeper level like they do, so it’s a great connection to see going on.
Another gig at The Mint is a great way to get the creative flow going since Modeliste played a memorable show at this very venue 369 days ago. It was a Saturday night, two-set blow out, the memory of which seems clear in the minds of the assembled who are eagerly back for another shot of that feel good elixir. There’s something about getting it straight from the source that makes the music’s rejuvenating powers even stronger.
Zigaboo is old school all the way and so is The Mint. It’s one of LA’s classic venues, an intimate yet classy joint that oozes with the retro cool that appeals to both old schoolers and modern hipsters alike. Not the kind of Southern California hipsters that put on a jaded air of being too cool for school, but rather those that really dig the sounds. The bar is oddly lacking in mint itself though, so there’s no mojitos or mint juleps to be had tonight. But the Manhattans are strong and the beer selection is always good.
There’s another band billed to play after Zigaboo, so it’s clear that this will only be a one set show tonight. But when “the King of the Funky Drums” and his band hit the stage just after 9 pm, there’s no doubt that a groovy good time will proceed for the next two hours. Zig has almost the same band as at last year’s gig at The Mint, pulling in local aces in bassist Jimmy Earl, keyboardist Jeff Babko, and guitarist Greg “G-Mack” Dalton. The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” gets the party going with a classic groove that never fails to ignite a dance floor. Zig could easily fill the entire set with Meters classics, but acknowledging influences and respected peers is part of what the inclusive New Orleans music scene has always been about.
“If it’s funky, keep it simple,” Zig advises the audience in between songs, ever seeking to impart little nuggets of wisdom that have kept him going through the decades. This philosophy is apparent on Zig’s own “Standing in Your Stuff”, where a crisp tight beat serves as the catalyst for a high energy jam. He also delivers the vocals with an enthusiasm that lets the audience know he’s all about the music. Then it’s into “The Meters’ book” for “Just Kissed My Baby”, one of those funky grooves that helped influence a generation of followers. Some of the audience seemed like they were aiming to stand and observe, but tunes like this keep getting the crowd more and more loosened up. Dalton throws down some hot licks on the jam and it’s easy to see he can shred with the best. “I Like It Like That” receives a similarly up-beat arrangement, with Zig’s funky accents leading the way while the able band helps him form a fine-tuned funk machine.
“I love New Orleans, but I love California too,” Zig says, emphasizing his affection for the Golden State and its more progressive laws regarding medical marijuana. “In all the presidential debates, no one mentioned anything about the green bud!” Dalton also chimes in with some supportive words for the green bud, a popular cause in the Los Angeles area where medical marijuana clubs are fighting against reactionary lawmakers trying to shut them down. This is another part of what sets Zigaboo apart from the mainstream – he’s not afraid to speak out for a cause. But he always brings it back around to the funk. Zig and the band keep throwing down one hot groove after another throughout the two-hour set, putting to shame the plethora of indie rock bands that can’t even seem to play for 90 minutes.
“If you go to New Orleans, you’re going to hear something like this going on,” Zig says in introducing “Hey Pocky Way”, the seminal bayou funk gem that’s been one of the most covered songs in music history. The traditional tune originated from New Orleans Indian street chants, but it was The Meters who popularized it, acting as a bridge between an old world and a new age that are connected through the common universal language of the funk. With its classic beat, boogie-woogie piano and groovy guitar strut, one can’t help but be enveloped by the power of that feel good music. It’s a sound that’s given New Orleans one of the most distinctive and colorful music scenes in the world. “Shake What You Got” gets into a down and dirty, slinky groove before “Africa” wraps it up with one of the monster jams that The Meters used to shake the world up.
Modeliste and The Meters never got the full popular acclaim they deserved for the role they served in helping bring such funky tunes to the world. But true music connoisseurs know how influential this music is, and that’s what makes it such a treat to be able to catch one of the old masters like Zig in action here in 2012.