The Rock Show
The Meters Still Running
Santa Cruz has such a vibrant live music scene that we rarely have to leave town--unless, of course, it's for those free fourth-row seats at the U2 show we can't seem to stop writing about. But when Rock Show heads up to the Fillmore and actually shells out $75 (just under $100 after service charges, but who's counting?) per ticket for a show, it is, by definition, a historic event. And when the band on the marquee is none other than the four original Meters, back together after a 25-year-long absence, it's also a revelation.
"I tell you, Leo, that Wal-Mart shit don't work," teased Art Neville as Leo Nocentelli suffered recurring amp connection problems that derailed a couple songs in the first of Saturday's two 90-minute sets. But the technical difficulties only seemed to make his guitar solos that much fiercer, as the New Orleans funk godfathers proved themselves to be--against all odds--more expansive, more technically proficient and, if possible, more soulful than ever.
George Porter's insanely expressive bass, Zigaboo Modeliste's peerless drumming and Art Neville's so-funky-it-hurts Hammond drove home jaw-dropping renditions of all-time favorites like Funkify Your Life, Fire on the Bayou, Just Kissed My Baby, Jungle Man, Africa and Hey Pocky Way, while between numbers, Neville and Modeliste debated the finer points of chocolate espresso beans vs. green bud. Invoking the spirit of New Orleans without once mentioning Katrina and its aftermath, the Meters epitomize a culture that's transcended more than its share of setbacks. And on Saturday night, these reunited legends offered up enough talent, inspiration and generosity of spirit to keep their fans going for another 25 years.
La Guitarra Mas Fina
More portable than a piano, less prissy than a harp and entirely more practical than an organ, the guitar is the perfect harmonic machine. Sadly, this instrument has spent much of the 20th century in the malfeasant hands of musical misfits like CC DeVille and Eddie Van Halen, in whose clutches it has sadly been turned into a lightning rod for the testosterone-fueled expressions of adolescence idiocy.
Hope still remains for the Ax though. Not only is it an incredibly versatile instrument, but it consistently attracts interesting musical minds into its snares. Johnny Greenwood, David Evans (U2's the Edge) and Tom Morello now have a new compatriot in guitar innovation: Kaki King.
At 5 feet tall, the 24-year-old guitarist isn't the most imposing soul to stalk out on a stage, but her diminutive stature is more than made up by her approach to her instrument. During her performance with the La Guitarra group (Mimi Fox, Patty Larkin, Muriel Anderson) at the Kuumbwa last Saturday, she started her set by picking up the lap steel and then plunking out a song built entirely out of choralelike harmonics and percussive effects. You had me at hello, Kaki.
On the regular six-string King prefers dropped-down tunings usually found on Sepultura records. Playing overhanded and even using some two-handed tapping techniques, King is a virtuosic misfit. She isn't afraid of dissonance, and her talent serves the song rather than her ego. She's also funny as hell, pulling odd faces and joking around onstage, all while chewing gum and remaining ironically distanced from the conventions of performance. After squirreling through some chromatic lines at the beginning of one of her songs, she joked with the audience that "I gotta show Mimi Fox what I got." Talent apparently.
The Road to Zion
On Nov. 8, Damian 'Jr. Gong' Marley opened up for U2 in Oakland. While his performance was adequate in all regards that night, seeing him at the Catalyst on Nov. 15 was a much more satisfying experience. Running through two hours of material culled from his three solo albums and some of his dad's material, Jr. Gong weaved in and out of styles and songs with the seasoned ease of someone born to the stage. Welcome to Jamrock and Road to Zion were both powerfully presented toward the end of the set. Maybe Bono showed Marley some of the anthemic hand gestures that he kept using to roust the crowd.
Marley also played both "Exodus" and "War" during the set, proving that the family's values and traditions did make it to the next generation. I wonder though, did Bob Marley take a full-time flag waver out on tour?
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