On November 11, at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco, the original Meters (to be distinguished from the funky Meters) reunited, for the first time since 1983.
As mystical seers of the First Church of the Funk, we here at OffBeat had already canonized the Meters and prophesied the reunion of their spirits by the time the conventional world heard that it was, indeed, a reality.
A two-tiered reaction was common among New Orleanians: a short-lived excitement beyond their funkiest dreams, followed immediately by the realization that the reunion would take place in San Francisco. Ouch. So, we sucked it up and bought plane tickets. We would see Art Neville, George Porter, Leo Nocentelli, and Zigaboo Modeliste all on the same stage at once if it was the last thing we ever did.
The reason for the choice of locale was a combination of the necessary evils of business conditions and the realities of space-time. Contrary to popular local heresay, the Meters themselves had long since resolved personal conflicts and aged business grudges. At this point, it was only a matter of the right offer. That offer came from the Left Coast first because the promoters, Bill Graham Management (the agency that handles the funky Meters and the Neville Brothers), Leo Nocentelli, and Zigaboo Modeliste are all based in California. In short, New Orleans could not get it together as quickly as San Francisco. This home turf feud, we would soon find out, ended up playing itself out in the performance itself.
Speculation ruled on the eve of the Meters Reunion. Could this be the end-all be-all we were expecting? With 17 years of buildup, intra-band tensions to boot, and enough New Orleans-style rumor mill action to magnify the hype a thousand times, many fans succumbed to the comforts of cynicism and prepared themselves for a let down. Still, it was worth the 85 bucks to see for yourself. Bets were placed. Call the opener? Would there be any special guests? Would Leo wear his cross-trainers or boots with his pants shoved inside?
The anticipation culminated in the pre-show atmosphere at the Warfield Theater, the second best venue for the event (Tipitina’s being the first). Large enough to accommodate the bulk of the diehards, and small enough to maintain intimacy, the Warfield is steeped in San Francisco rock ‘n’ roll history and decorated in plush red velvet and gold molding. Venue regulations confused New Orleanians.
You could stand, plain as day, and puff a big, billowing joint, but if you wanted to smoke a cigarette, you had to “be real mellow” about it. The crowd on the floor included Stanton Moore and Robert Mercurio of Galactic, and Les Claypool of Primus. (Huey Lewis was also said to be in attendance backstage, compelling management personnel to appoint a grunt to tackle Mr. Lewis to the floor should he make a move toward the stage.)
The buzz was incredible, and you could feel the excitement in the air. When the curtains finally opened to reveal Art, Leo, George, and Zig all on the same stage and ready to rip, it was almost too much for the hybrid New Orleans/Bay Area crowd of funked-out, Mardi Gras-beaded, loaded up freaks.
It was instant magic when the opening riffs of “Fire On the Bayou” hit the audience. Every member of the crowd roared along with the chorus, and shamed themselves for any doubts they may have had. The first set was a hand-picked dream, including some of the funkiest of tunes ever written, “He Bite Me” (a regular feature of George Porter’s repertoire, never recorded by the Meters) and “Funky Miracle” creeping up on even the most attentive listeners.
With “Welcome to New Orleans” there came an air of unmistakable irony that seemed perfectly intentional. Art made up for it, “Y’all aren’t fans,” he said, “You’re friends!” But Zigaboo begged to differ. “Friends? What?” he corrected, “That’s family out there!” The crowd went wild. In the middle of the set, the band provoked an applause competition between San Francisco and New Orleans fans. New Orleans was rowdier by far. By the time “People Say” was jamming, audience members had their cell phones on speed dial to call their friends back home for a Jazz Fest moment.
The end of the set brought a seamless medley of hits sandwiched in the middle of two jammed-out versions of “Africa,” and “What’cha Say,” an epic tune from Rejuvenation that the Meters had never performed live before. When the set ended, the curtains closed and the house lights came up, but wait…after a minute the curtains opened while Zigaboo pounded out a bare second line beat and, as the crowd let out a confused roar, the band broke into the best “Hey Pocky A-Way” we’ve ever heard. Those crazy Meters had tricked us!
The place was on fire by the time the second set started with the old instrumental “Here Comes the Meterman.” Then the Meters went deep into the funk with “Chug-A-Lug.” Porter’s bass was thumping so hard at this point, anchoring Zigaboo’s masterful stripped-down drumming, and the floor vibrated with the groove.
Not a soul in the building was out of touch with what was going on on that stage. Slowing the pace for a number, “Find Yourself” gave Leo the rare vocal spotlight he so obviously craved. His extended, heavy metal guitar solos had stolen the focus a number of times throughout the performance, adding to an overall power struggle that was taking place musically before our eyes. At one point, Porter made his way to Neville’s side of the stage, and as Leo moved stage left towards Zigaboo’s drum riser, a full-blown New Orleans/Bay Area playoff took place.
This mock competition culminated in a guitar/bass duel in the middle of the famous “Ain’t No Use” jam, which lasted over 20 minutes. The force of intrigue was incredible. This was not the fresh, bare-bones, all-rhythm Meters of the ’70s. No, this band had the full, mature sound of four veteran musicians, legends in their own right, whose decades of hard luck and hard living were not to go unrepresented in their art. The effect was as amazing as it was appropriate. We could all die happy now.
Or could we? The Meters are still alive, folks. In funk music, in young fans’ hearts, in hip-hop samples, in side projects, and onstage at the Warfield, the Meters live on in all their funky glory. The question remains, who is going to bring the Meters home? Come on, New Orleans. How long are you going to let your cultural life be run by petty politics? Let’s get it together and put the funk back where it belongs.
Fire On The Bayou -> He Bite Me -> Welcome to New Orleans, Thinking -> Groovy Lady -> Funky Miracle -> Look-Ka Py Py, People Say, Africa -> Thank You (Falettin me be mice elf agin) -> Africa, What’cha Say
En: Hey Pocky A-Way
Here Comes The Meterman, Chug-A-Lug, Ease Back, Find Yourself, You’ve Got to Change (You’ve Got to Reform) -> Hang ‘Em High, Just Kissed My Baby, Liver Splash, Sophisticated Cissy -> Ain’t No Use
En: Cissy Strut -> Cardova