The day was Thursday February 8th, and with Mardi Gras season in full swing, the city buzzing, and the Joy Theater sold out, the stage was set for another legendary night of funk music in New Orleans.
For those not familiar with Lettuce, they are one of the preeminent contemporary funk bands. Blending a foundation of hip-hop influenced beats with an undeniable swagger coming from 20 years of continuous jazz-funk innovation, Lettuce has been around the block for a while now and in recent years have been taken in by the jam community as well. Making a name for themselves in the past for their hard and fast brand of in your face jazz-funk fusion, each subsequent album has brought in a considerable amount of innovation and transformation in sound. Lettuce’s latest releases have showcased a decidedly more paced and bass-heavy approach to funk, often described as spacey, while also showing off their hip-hop chops (both Jesus Coomes [bass] and Adam Deitch [drums] have impressive bodies of work in the world of hip-hop production).
Partnering Lettuce for the night was The Motet, a Denver based funk group, and veritable stars on the scene in their own right. Starting off the night fast and funky, The Motet’s clavinet-driven grooves had already spawned a few dance battles by the end of the first song, The Truth. Playing for an hour before having “time for one more,” their pace never dipped and the audience (a little sparse at first but packed before too long) certainly got a nice warm up for what was to come.
Taking their time as per usual, Lettuce cooling sauntered onto stage at 11:45. As has been the case lately, they performed without Eric Krasno or Neal Evans (who make up two thirds of acclaimed jazz trio Soulive). Though they have not released any original material in a year or so, Lettuce has been actively working on new tunes on their off days and wasted no time putting it on display at The Joy Theater, hitting the crowd with a new song right from the get go. The tune erred on the side of spacey jazz fusion but quickly transformed into an up-tempo funky jam, culminating in an electrifying solo from alto saxophone master Ryan Zoidis that left audience in awe. Wasting no time, Lettuce bounced right into two more brand new fast, funky, and wildly syncopated jams, with Ryan Zoidis still heavily featuring on the saxophone and the crowd seemingly translating every note to their feet.
The first tune I even remotely recognized came nearly half way through the set, but believe me when I say that from there things got certifiably wild. Bingeing on a robust diet of water for the night, the music itself was enough to send this writer into an endless delirium of dancing. Having only kicked off their winter tour the night before in Atlanta, the band was still fresh and fully charged, and as the night went on energy levels in The Joy crept steadily higher, with one virtuosic solo after another. The absolute high-point of the show came towards the end as the band played a high strung version of what sounded like Get Greasy from Crush. While Greasy was perfectly fun, the crowd went properly nuts when Adam Schmeans (guitar) broke into the classic Kool & the Gang tune “More Funky Stuff.” It was the zenith of an undeniably raging show, one that reminded everyone in the building that when it comes to modern-day funk music, Lettuce rules the roost, and it’s not even close.