George Porter Jr.'s face is half in darkness on the shadowy BB King's stage.
He is in the middle of a monster bass solo in the middle of "Name Up In
Lights", PBS's ninth song of their set, and he is clearly "feeling it".
Guitarist Brian Stoltz has casually walked to the side of the stage, giving
the crowd a momentary break from his searing licks, which evoke constant
comparisons to Jimi Hendrix's tone, despite Brian's placement in a funk
band. And not just "a" funk band, "THE" funk band. I am, of course,
talking about The funky Meters, the quartet which officially formed in 1994
after the breakup of the legendary funk pioneers The Meters, in 1979. But
don't be fooled, PBS is not The Funky Meters.
Art Neville and his keyboards are noticeably absent, and without him, his
iconoclastic lead vocals are filled admirably by Stoltz, who is a much
better singer than anything he's done previously revealed. His voice
shined on numerous occasions, notably on "Norma's House", where he shared
vocal duties with George Porter. Perhaps the best song of the "pre-guest"
night, the chorus is extremely catchy, inciting the crowd to sing along,
despite this being almost everyone's first exposure to the tune. George,
never to be outdone, shined as well on Curtis Mayfield's "Check Out Your
Mind", a tune also often performed by Karl Denson's
Tiny Universe. The song was the essence of what the night was about.
Funky, catchy, fun and upbeat. However, PBS is not your standard funk band
playing your standard funk cover song. When you have a legend on bass, a
near legend on guitar and one of the brightest young drummers in music today
in Russell Batiste, standard tunes are never going to be standard. "Check
Out Your Mind" was nearly twenty minutes long, and featured some incredible
displays of musicality by both Porter and Stoltz, as they each took the song
to its limits and beyond. Brian's guitar playing is about as smooth as
anyone I've ever seen, without compromising intensity. He is a ferocious
lead player with a searing tone that just cuts through the air, all the
while, dancing on top of Porter's heavy bass, which pulsates the room which
each individual note's intensity. However, the night was taken up a notch
around 12:20 or so when Warren Haynes joined PBS on stage for what is now
the most incredible musical moment of this brief new year.
As the band worked its way into "Sco-Mule", I was taken aback, as I often
am, at the quality of the musicians on stage in front of me. In an era
where popular music is often criticized for being more about image than
substance, I was standing directly in front of, one foot away from, four
musicians who were ALL substance. From the moment Warren walked on stage,
the ensuing half hour was nothing short of pure, uninhibited "intensity".
The stage became two battlegrounds; on one side, Warren and Brian trading
licks and on the other, Russell and Porter Jr hammering away at their
respective instruments driving each song into overdrive. At the song's
completion, the band quickly began "Voodoo Child", played over a slow,
bluesy riff. Stoltz took lead vocal duty, and while I was disappointed that
Warren was not singing, Brian more than appeased the crowd with his gritty
vocals, and biting lead guitar work. The jam soared as all four players on
stage attacked the song with ferocious riffs, pulling the other members in
every musical direction. In fact, there were very few moments where you
could actually tell what song they were playing. Of course, this was more
than apparent during the final song, Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun",
which easily could've been either Santana's "Jingo", or Phish's "First
The closing number of "Good Old Funky Music" was a perfect cap on the
evening, as that was exactly what we all came to see, and got. No, PBS is
not the Funky Meters, and in fact, they did not play one typical Funky
Meters tune. But nobody cared. As the saying goes, "George Matters."
Turns out, Brian and Russell aint too shabby either.