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Published: 2004/03/22
by Tom Baker

Deep Fried, The Brandyhouse, Atlanta, GA 3/13

The list of rock n' roll supergroups is too long to even start, and the list of bands named after foods seems almost as epic. But gastronomically titled supergroups might just be another matter, and that brings us to Deep Fried. I'll freely admit to not being entirely certain what the creators of musical identities like the Strawberry Alarm Clock or Wavy Gravy or Moby Grape were going forprofundity or psychedelia or just plain whateverand I've frankly never been troubled to learn the particulars of the String Cheese Incident or the origin of Disco Biscuits. Deep Fried, on the other hand, invokes very particular images, especially to anyone familiar with the cuisine of the American south. And just in case you don't get it, keyboardist Johnny Neel will happily spell it out for you: "(a) deep-fried, high-cholesterol, boogie-woogie funk band," he said early on in the band's March 13th performance at Atlanta's Brandyhouse. Talk about truth in advertisingit doesn't get any more real than that.

You don't get those convenient food labels that neatly count out all the calories and fat you're ingesting when you bolt down a big helping of that home cooked fried chicken or catfish, and you're probably better off not knowing anyway. But the ingredients of Deep Fried the band are much easier to identify—comprised of Neel, drummer Matt Abts, guitarist Brian Stoltz, and bassist George Porter Jr., Deep Fried kicked off their eleven stop East Coast club tour in Atlanta by working up a slow-building swelter and exuding the air of a group of superstar athletes on All-Star break, all relaxed and in no hurry, allowing time from the outset to for each player to find their place in the mix. Once liftoff was achieved, Deep Fried spent the night on spacious but rawboned jams, a good number of them free-form experiments, setting up a hot musical kitchen that spun out plate after plate of fat-bottomed grooves and gave the patrons of the packed house plenty of reasons to shake their hips.

The band took turns leading the way in and out of numbers, allowing all the players their chances to burn and shine: growling blues leads from Stoltz that leapt in and out of the fray, the machine gun and glass bottle rattle of Abts' drumkit, the snaky funk rumble of Porter Jr., Neel's keys jitterbugging around his full-throat Delta bluesman vocals like a cross between Jerry Lee Lewis and some Old West saloon pianola. But this was no game of musical one-upmanship; with four heavyweights sharing the tight stage but not an ounce of ego on display, the star turns were always gracious, never overly elaborate, and even a little humble, and the predominant feel was of authentic collaboration. Because the members of the Deep Fried collective sport more connections than Kevin Bacon, a definite "Six Degrees of …" vibe was tangible in the Brandyhouse as well: Stoltz and Porter Jr. are card carrying Funky Meters; Porter Jr. took a few guest shots with Abts and Warren Haynes in Gov't Mule; Stoltz is a vet of recording sessions with an eclectic list that includes Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Dr. John, and Jimmy Buffett; and Neel's long list of collaborators includes the likes of the Allman Brothers Band, Blue Floyd, and Willie Nelson. The deep well of influences and experience opened the show to fabulously dense yet still clean-lined and uncluttered explorations of numbers like "Stone Funky," "Just Kissed My Baby," and a cover of Lee Dorsey's 1966 classic "Workin' in a Coal Mine" that invoked the soulful, checkered musical fabric of the Meters' New Orleans homebase.

Porter Jr. steered the latter number to a tag of Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright," just two nights before Mason was set to be inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame with his Traffic bandmates, and even though the timing of the tribute may have been coincidental (the song is, after all, one of the more pervasive covers in rock), the message wasn't; with the club packed and the band loose-limbed and waist deep in the funk, everything was feeling alright indeed. In a day when it's getting harder and harder to make true finds in music (sorry, American Idol doesn't count), there's no way to replace the joy of stumbling across a band like this in a small, dark space, both sagely professional and agelessly exuberant, funky and urgent but also in control. Just as Neel said, it was definitely deep-fried and high cholesterol, but only in the best, most heartfelt and healthy kind of way.

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