New Orleans has, is and will always be known for many things: the food, the French Quarter and possibly above allthe music. The birthplace of jazz and the modern home of funk, this past Friday saw some living legends bring a splash of their Southern flavor to the Big Apple. George Porter, Jr., Russell Batiste and Brian Stoltzcommonly referred to as PBSwere joined by Page McConnell in support of their upcoming release, MOODOO, which was recorded live with McConnell last November in Burlington. McConnell also has other direct connections to Nawlins and this lineup, having enlisted Batiste on the kit when forming his own super group, Vida Blue, as well as sitting in with each of them numerous times throughout the years in various capacities.
The beauty of improvisational music is that is a two-way street, as this show at B.B. King's, in the heart of Times Square, proved right from the start. Opening with a toast by Batiste, who explained it was a real New Orleans tradition, he then slammed into a tune from McConnell's self-titled, solo debut released last year, "Back in the Basement." With an unexpected number kicking things off, it was clear this night would be a real treat, with some added spices to this jambalaya of musical all-stars. Funking along with some signature wah-wah shredding by Stoltz, the first set incorporated such tunes as "Seven Desires" and "All I Do Every Day." Easily, the most poignant moment of the night came towards the end of the first set, with McConnell stepping out front and center for a stirring rendition of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy." A tune McConnell played solo on a few Vida Blue tours, it had over five years since I last heard it and was absolutely floored. His vocals were warm and heartfelt, one of his biggest strengths and qualities when it comes to numbers that hit home.
Set one ended with a one-two-three combo of covers from some other musical giants, which also happens to be a medley captured on MOODOO. The Meters' "Funky Miracle," Sly Stone's "Sing a Simple Song," and Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women" was an unlikely trio more akin to a bastard child of folk and funk, and on this night had the packed house sweating and hooting along with every delicious beat, snare and deliciously gooey bass bomb. George Porter is just amazing, plain and simple. I always think of Barry Bonds, baseball's all time home run king when I look at Porter, because of the dangling earring. However, in Porter's case, it's not him but just his bass that seems to be on steroids.
After a well deserved break in which both the fans and band were able to cool down a bit, it didn't take long for the band to get things cookin' again. "Wah Wah Me," a track off of PBS' 2005 effort, Expanding the Funkin’ Universe, which characterizes Stoltz's style perfectly, opened the second set in roaring fashion. Throughout the set, McConnell also managed to do what he does best: sink out of the spotlight, while added his patented chops when the time was right. It was the perfect mix of allowing the funkiest trio going to do their own thing, while adding a few brushstrokes of his own. None was more so evident than the Vida Blue cut "Most Events Aren't Planned" towards the end of the evening. A jam that bubbled out into sonic-funk-space was one of the exploratory highlights of the night. The jam was patientfloating, almostin which the same respect McConnell showed his mates earlier was returned by allowing his keys to take center stage and paint the mood perfectly.
A rousing rendition of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" closed things out. Somewhere in there, they also added "All We Wanna Do (Is Get Funky With You Tonight)," which manymyself, includedconsider the signature tune of this band, their attitude and style of playing. The lineup might be a bunch of superstars, but they have a knack of taking every genre of music imaginable and throwing it all into a pot, stirring it all together with a ladle of funk and a heavy dose of New Orleans attitude.