When, on the verge of a huge commercial breakthrough, a group fizzles out amid such business and financial chaos, allegations, accusations and still unresolved wrangling over publishing as the Meters did, it would normally take an act of Congress to get all the original members on stage performing together. But it being all too obvious this week how the wheels of politics can work, it was up to a corporate head-hunter and owner of a food technology company to pony up a tempting proposition.
Thus, with Bill Graham Presents handling the brass tacks, on Nov. 11, San Francisco’s Warfield Theater hosted a return to ground zero of groove, as the steady beat of Zigaboo Modeliste, the stinging, nervy guitar of Leo Nocentelli, and the percolating bass of George Porter Jr. — all perfectly cemented together by Art “Poppa Funk” Neville’s Hammond organ — filtered through the opening riffs of “Fire on the Bayou” for the first time in over two decades.
Three days of rehearsals can’t make up for twenty years of not performing together — unless you’re talking about the Meters. And it didn’t take long for the pioneering funkateering quartet to lock together and start to flow into a three-hour history of Big Easy heat that passed through past nuggets like 1969’s “Cissy Strut,” “I’m the Meter Man” and “Sophisticated Cissy.” It continued right through to “Hang ‘Em High” from 1976’s Trick Bag, all tied together with seamless, freewheeling stream of consciousness improvisation with a healthy dose of soul and the impeccable precision of a Swiss watch; each mechanical piece locked perfectly together to function as a perfect whole.
Set lists during a Meters show are a redundant proposition and sometime in the beginning of the second set Porter scrunched his up and threw it away. Plenty of surprises were thrown at the sold-out theater, including songs the Meters had recorded but never performed together like “Thinking” from Cissy Strut and “Watcha Say” from Rejuvenation.
Zigaboo and Nocentelli, having been overlooked since they left the band, got more than a fair chance to settle the score with razor-tight accompaniment and fine soloing. Very few drummers can get a crowd of 2,200 people to pay attention to a solo like Modeliste did on the fifteen-minute version of “People Say.”
The slow soul of 1976’s “Find Yourself,” also performed for the very first time, allowed the crowd — and the band, no doubt — to catch their breath. This temporary port of call was short-lived, and it wasn’t long before another groove-set which included an incendiary “Just Kissed My Baby” that lasted for a good ten minutes before eventually winding up with “Ain’t No Use,” which had Nocentelli and Porter locked toe-to-toe in a guitar and bass climax.
Who knows whether or not the quartet will ever perform together again. But the fire coming from the stage, that at times verged on musical primal scream therapy, along with the full moon, created an evening that was one part concert, one part private party and several parts dream-come-true for the Meters’ fans. When, millions of years from now, archaeologists will be sifting through the sight, they may be puzzled how those deep grooves cutting through the earth’s crust got there.