As Leo Nocentelli‚ who was dressed in a long white robe adorned with a collage of mini superman logos made of dollar signs‚ broke into his solo in "Africa‚" I started to really get a feel for these guys that I have listened to all these years. See the Meters‚ those Funky Meters‚ are the ultimate band. They all riff‚ they all have their place in the music‚ and they all know their place in the music. They do not step on each other's toes as they play around each other‚ in the groove‚ as their individual parts make up a cohesive‚ funky‚ yet dynamic and often utterly simplistic sound. It is literally the sum of their parts that is their brilliance. They don't often play complex parts and don't have to prove anything to you. Sure they can play and Leo ripped up his guitar during his "Africa" solo‚ but the groove is fairly constant and a song like "Africa" can go on for ten magnificent minutes and is never boring‚ never stale‚ and never overindulgent… well‚ except for the guitar solo. Leo can shred‚ like metal shred‚ but it makes sense. It fits and it elevates the music‚ but the groove continues‚ always steady‚ perpetual and funky.
By the time these Meter Men broke into "Africa" I had already commented several times to both to my wife and friend that I cannot hear Page very well‚ they agreed. Every so often Page leaned over to talk to the monitor tech that was staged behind his Leslie cab and then would resume playing. Transitioning from Leo's guitar solo was Page's and it was finally understood‚ something was not right‚ he is the soloist right now and you can't hear him over the music‚ yet the band is grooving‚ not jamming furiously as can frequently be heard during live Phish jams. He should stick out‚ but didn't. After the end of the tune Leo took to the mic and started rapping to the audience about how Page was coming to play their tunes‚ so they asked him if he wanted them to learn any of his tunes. The crowd erupted‚ anticipating the group to bust into a Phish favorite after these leading words‚ but the notion was quickly squashed as Page answers Leo‚ "And I said no‚ I want to play Meter's tunes!" Without giving the crowd time to process this declaration‚ affected by it or not‚ they launch into "The Dragon (He Bite Me)." If you don't know this song it has a very slow‚ deliberate groove‚ heavy with a great riff the whole band employs. Then just as you sit back into the slanky rhythm‚ they all play a syncopated measure of marching hits that leads right back into the main groove. Oh‚ it is such an unpretentious‚ straightforward tune that epitomizes the modesty and sheer genius of The Meter's tight‚ simplistic sound. Unassuming and humble‚ their artistry is righteous. They are virtuosos‚ but with virtue. They don't show off‚ unless the music asks them to‚ yet they constantly show how much command they have of both their instruments and their music.
"Dragon" leads into the first set closer‚ a crowd favorite that honestly I have heard butchered so many times by the most mediocre of bar bands that the luster long faded for me‚ "Hey Pocky Way." It felt like a set closer and honestly it was the best version I have ever heard. The group played a solid‚ fluid and funky seventy minutes of music. My hunch about Page's sound issues was validated when techs got right to work at the break. Then the costume contest got underway as promised. Wishing I had missed the spectacle myself‚ I will forego the details.
As Page came out for the second set a member from the audience tossed a funny little clown hat at him‚ he momentarily placed it on his head‚ then proceeded to toss it back into the crowd as the group went into what I can only describe as a funky space jam. So began the juxtaposition of set one and set two.
The stark differences between the two sets started with Page's sound‚ which was now dialed to perfection. The house mix was balanced and it was obvious Page could hear himself much better to include his vocals‚ which were really just splashes of backup harmonies on the rarest of occasion while leaning about 18" from his microphone.
Second set was more open and jammy‚ but certainly not lacking in a tight‚ solid foundation. It felt like The Meter Men were more comfortable with themselves‚ the audience‚ and certainly their collective sound. The culmination was a rowdy‚ high octane "Just Kissed My Baby" that boosted the crowd into a floor stomping mess of sweat-soaked costumes and glitter-glistened dancers. It was a masquerade‚ but we weren't too keen on hiding our true selves. There are few things that rival seeing such an amazing act in this intimate a setting. Defining 'in the moment' before our very ears‚ the energy transfer was tangible from the artists to the blissfully entertained attendees and back again‚ an infinite loop of pleasure vibes‚ it was pure ecstasy.
The Meter Men exited the stage for the night about thirty minutes past midnight‚ post encore; the audience was left wanting more. More we would have‚ but we would have to wait until the next evening for that‚ after some much needed rest.
Night two carried a different vibe‚ but was still funky‚ dynamic‚ and fiery. The crowd was packed like sardines in an undersized tin can. See the club allowed anyone with an intact stub from the 31st to come in on the 1st to see the show. Seeing how the fire marshals were most likely occupied by emergencies brought on by Sandy‚ there was no one to turn the surplus of patrons away. The crowd was thicker and the set list was tweaked‚ but featured repeats galore from the previous night. We got sweaty‚ our groove was put on and fun ensued‚ but there was something more intimate‚ more special‚ about Halloween that was evident to those attending both nights.
On night two The Meter Men stretched out more comfortably early on in the first set opposed to the night before where improvisational jams didn't really develop until set two when Page got his sound dialed. There were highlights‚ like watching Zigaboo sing in a bow tie and shades -- bringing the same steady‚ funky backbeat he has been laying down for The Meters since the 60's. This man is time‚ he is groove‚ he is the pace and if the music calls for a driving force to push it ever forward‚ this man jumps in fully committed to being the driver. If you need some down home‚ dirty funk that slithers and seethes‚ this man stirs the pot‚ he whittled the spoon. Zigaboo playing an off-time jam underneath George Porter Jr.'s super slow and deliberate bass solo in "The Dragon (He Bite Me)" was the highlight of second night‚ second set‚ which was the same as the first night's first set save for "Hey Pocky Way" once again being the set one closer. Set two concluded with a rousing "Fired Up" and ended the night at just quarter past midnight with no encore. I guess they were spent‚ but so were we.
For the second night in a row we made our way down West 42nd Street with the hopes of catching a ride over the Brooklyn Bridge. We figured worst case scenario we get dropped off at the bridge‚ walk across‚ and catch a second ride to our destination on Melrose Street in Brooklyn. For the second night we didn't have to. We caught a Brooklyn native just at the moment they were taking their last fare before turning out the lights. Ironic really‚ they seemed to be out all around us‚ unless you were lucky enough to make it to Times Square to see The Meter Men on Halloween.