#415: Look-Ka Py Py, The Meters
My point of entry into the Meters: Patti LaBelle, she of American Horror Story: Freak Show and of the red velvet marble cake with boiled frosting, which I made, and was good. Today I learned that LaBelle had a vocal group named after her, and that they recorded “Lady Marmalade,” which is the song my sister got mad at me for singing too often in France. (Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?) Anyway, guess who her backup band was?
The Meters were the laid back house band for Allen Toussaint, a New Orleans record producer. Tom Moon, who put together the 2008 book 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (No I won’t do it) said that “no one works too hard on Meters records,” which I thought might be an insult until I listened a few times. They’re economical: just the drums, organ, guitar and bass on everything. They don’t play too fast, either. Then I found this interview from George Porter Jr. that kind of suggests they didn’t even name their songs. Even funnier that one of them ended is called “Dry Spell,” and the shortest one called “Thinking.”
They’re just a sparse instrumental funk band, not indulging in lyrics other than some short scats on “Look-A Py Py.” They aren’t trying to get you to move excessively — they’re just being the coolest, spookiest people in the room. Maybe it’s because they’re instrumental, but I kept picturing the songs as soundtracks. I pictured “The Mob” in West Side Story, “Funky Miracle” as maybe the cool part of a James Bond movie, and “Yeah You’re Right” as a playfully frank This-Is-Your-Brain-On-Drugs commercial. Hell, they cover the nudie-musical-theater theme “Oh, Calcutta!” I could even see some of them playing backup for a talk show. (See you soon, Questlove…)
Here’s a revelation: two of Art Neville’s grandsons are in a contemporary New Orleans funk band called Dumpstaphunk. The lead singer is Lenny Kravitzy, and they’re a bit more party-rock than the Meters were, but they kinda kick ass. According to their website, they’ve played with Bob Weir! John Oates! And Deen Ween!!! Speaking of their website though, I think they could use another look at theirs. “These soldiers of funk ignite a deep, gritty groove that dares listeners not to move.” Dumpstaphunk, I will rewrite your website for free.
I’ve been thinking about how far back into the past we’re reaching lately. This album is fifty-four years old, which is now long ago enough that several members have passed now — Art Neville died the same year as fellow swamp-rocker Dr. John. What will New Orleans funk look like in another fifty-four years? Would Dr. John even recognize it?
Or put it this way — would a band called Dumpstaphunk have ever gotten a record deal in 1954?