The Meter Men with Page McConnell, The Howard Theatre, Washington, DC – 11/2
When you’re Page McConnell, member of juggernaut jamband Phish, chairman of the (piano) boards and overall classy musician and Leo Nocentelli, calls you and asks you to be a featured guest piano player in his most recent project, The Metermen. Then all bets are off.
The Metermen features founding members of the Meters, Leo Nocentelli on guitar, George Porter, Jr. and Ziggy “Zigaboo” Modeliste on drums. These three musicians single handedly defined New Orleans funk and skyrocketed it to mainstream during the late 1960’s, recording such staples as “Cissy Strut,” “Ease Back” and “Look a Py Py,” which all reached top 10 on the R&B charts. By 1975, The Rolling Stones requested that The Meters join them as an opening act on their American tour and their European tour in 1976. Spanning over 75 dates together over the two tours, The Meters had made a respected name for themselves in the industry.
With Art Neville, founding piano player and front man of The Meters, unable to participate in this tour it was a nice surprise to see McConnell on the bill.
“There were several keyboardists on the table, Herbie Hanckock, Booker T. (Jones), JoJo (Herman) with Widespread Panic,” says Nocentelli. “But when it came down to it, personally from my experience and what I’ve heard, I knew this was the guy we needed.”
This isn’t the first time McConnell has been an extended member of The Meters family. He’s collaborated with several of the founding members and has direct ties to New Orleans because of his father, Dr. Jack McConnell.
“I played with George (Porter, Jr.) and Art (Neville), we did a session in 1998, a benefit for the New Orleans Musicians clinic, something that my dad started. Then I played with P.B.S. (George Porter, Jr., Russell Batiste and Brian Stoltz). Then I got a call from Leo…” explains McConnell.
The four musicians have a certain charisma about playing together. Each member dominates their respected instrument and even though it’s only a four-piece band, they produce a heavy and full funk sound. This carnation of the Metermen, with McConnell, closed out a short and sweet four-date tour in Washington, D.C. at the Howard Theater. Nocentelli took the stage first, picking up his guitar and began noodling as the rest of the band took their instruments.
The band opened up with “Funky Miracle,” wasting no time getting right into the down and dirty New Orleans funk grooves. The crowd was shuffling back and forth in full appreciation. McConnell practiced some early breakdowns on his B-3 Clavinet as the rest of the band was in full smiles. One of the most impressive things about this band is their ability to transition in and out of songs flawlessly, as during “Just Kissed My Baby,” which was complemented by a slowed down and patiently drawn out bass jam by Porter Jr., before “Cissy Strut,” easily the band’s most recognizable number.
Other first set highlights were “You’ve Got to Change” and “Ease Back,” which featured stage banter from Nocentelli, in which he explained how happy he was to play at the Howard because of the musical and social history in the building.
“There’s a lot of history in this place so I’m glad to be here. There’s a lot of white people. Earlier there was a lot of R&B acts but there was only black people. It’s really a thrill for me, there’s a lot of history man,” says Nocentelli.
Before the Apollo theater and the Regal, there was The Howard Theater, which was “the largest colored theater in the world,” according to the venue’s official website. The venue opened in 1910 but had to close their doors in the early 1980’s where the vacant building was neglected until the grand re-opening earlier in 2012. The Howard Theater was a constant stop for great acts such as Louis Armstrong, Billie Hilliday, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Artetha Franklin and James Brown. Needless to say, it was time the Metermen got their chance to grace this building with their raw talent and add to the venue’s long and prestigious history.
After a quick set-break the band returned rested and ready to close out this show with class. An excellent version of “Fire On the Bayou” > “Funkify Your Life” opened the set, where McConnell and Porter Jr. took turns soloing away, bouncing the music off of one another as if they were tossing a baseball back and forth. “Hey Pocky Way,” was another musical highlight of the second set that clocked in around ten and a half minutes.
“Aint No Use,” closed out the set leaving the intimate crowd memorized and screaming for more. The band put down their instruments, stood onstage to bask in the ambient crowd response for just a moment and then walked off the stage. The band did return and lay down a smokin’ version of “People Say,” a hit off their album, Rejuvenation.
The Metermen will continue to shed a positive light and love to New Orleans funk with a few scattered shows on the west coast with a variety of musical guests being featured on the keys to close out 2012. Meanwhile The Meters are among the 2013 nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after being together for more than 45 years.