The musical relationship between New Orleans and Minneapolis runs long and deep, just like the river that helps define each of the cities. The New Orleans based Radiators developed a touring home here in Minneapolis second only to that of its own home town. The great Minneapolis soul and blues band The Butanes has a long history as a support act for touring New Orleans artists like Earl King. And of course, Bob Dylan, and his song “Highway 61 Revisited,” traces the path of America’s Blues Highway from its start in Minnesota down the course of the Mississippi River into New Orleans.
Into this long and storied past steps Ivan Neville and his mighty funk machine, Dumpstaphunk, to play Minneapolis’ newest music venue The Hook and Ladder Theater on December 22. Ivan has his own history with Minnesota’s music scene, as he used to be the touring keys player for Minneapolis punk rock greats, Soul Asylum, as they expanded their sound in the mid-90’s.
The venue is a welcome addition to the Minneapolis scene, a converted firehouse that used to host a performance arts center and now holds two stages in connecting rooms under beautiful chandeliers and lighting.
Opening band Mark Joseph and American Soul started the show on the smaller stage with a smart set of 70’s oriented music, finding a sweet spot between The Allman and Doobie Brothers Band’s for its sound and inspiration. Keyboardist Rob Hilstrom and Big Wu guitar player Joseph sang and played well off of each other all night, and the backing vocalists brought warmth and depth to the band’s mix.
Dumpstaphunk hit the stage at 9:45 and played a two hour set that hinted at both the history and the future of funk music, weaving in and out of songs and medleys featuring disparate influences from the obvious, The Meters and Nevilles, to the unexpected, like their pummeling cover of Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On as the encore.
The twin bass attack of Nick Daniels and Tony Hall gave the music and fans a wall of sound to spread out over while Ian Neville’s guitar playing was rhythmically strong and his solos on point and exploratory while not being too far out that the songs meandered or slowed down the set’s momentum. New drummer Calvin Ford was rock solid, pushing the music forcefully forward while maintaining a soulful, funky edge.
And Ivan Neville’s contributions on both vocals and keyboard showcased his multitude of talents, from fragile falsetto trills like his father, to more earthy and blues oriented vocals. Daniels and Hall were also more than competent vocalists, Daniels providing the deep bottom and Hall the tenor backing and lead vocals common to the genre.
The set itself ranged from intricate New Orleans based funk and jazz patterns, Parliament like excursions into the cosmos, deep and powerful blues, and straight up hard rock. Songs like “Meanwhile” and “Everybody Wants Sum” captured not only the celebratory nature of funk music, but also the political resistance and resilience that forms the backbone and intrinsic strength of the music. Indeed, the band was at its best when the vocals and music pushed both the band and the crowd forward as on their tribute to Prince during an electric cover of “Sexy MF” that segued into choruses of “Lady Cab Driver” and “Controversy.”
As if to drive the point home the band then invited Jellybean Johnson from The Time up to play lead guitar on the set closing “You Don’t Hold Your Water” behind Ivan Neville’s B3 organ swirls Johnson lit up the crowd with blistering solo after solo taking the funk out of the depths of the blues and into the skies above!!!
One of the top bands on the festival circuit Dumpstaphunk not only maintains the legacy of NOLA music but pushes the boundaries of it as well. I was truly impressed by the growth of the band since last seeing them a few years back at 10,000 Lakes Fest, and am sure that under Ivan Neville’s capable leadership, will continue to take their music in new musical directions in the upcoming years.