Fox Theater, Oakland
March 17, 2017
All photos by Paul Piazza.
If anyone was wondering how fired up Lettuce were for their headlining show at Oakland’s Fox Theatre, they got their answer about five seconds after the band hit the stage.
Keyboardist Nigel Hall came bouncing out onto the edge of the stage in an Oakland t-shirt as the band hustled to their instruments behind him. He immediately began exhorting the crowd by throwing up his arms and shouting, “What’s up Oakland? …..What’s UPPP Oaklaaaaannddd!??!!??” The Dude was fired up.
After getting the response he wanted from the packed house (who were insanely stoked to see this band), he bounded up to his keyboards and the band commenced to show the crowd at the Fox why they are considered one of the key players in the modern funk renaissance. The band match their smooth and soulful grooves with a hip-hop inspired urgency and mastery of beat.
On this night, they played cuts from the great 2015 album Crush as well 2012’s Fly and all the way back to “Reunion” from 2002’s Outta Here. Lettuce push headphone listening boundaries with the sophistication of their arrangements and recordings. In fact Crush reached number one on the Jazz Albums chart. However, hearing how dynamically they execute their songs live is where one gets a true feel for the funk beast that they have become. By the end of the night, one could imagine them being immortalized on the fictional Mt. Crushmore, which is the title of their recent EP.
The group began in the summer of 1992 when its members attended a music program at Berklee College of Music in Boston. They were brought together by the influence of various funk bands and began jamming together. Over time they’ve developed into one of the most sophisticated funky, jazz behemoths on the scene .
To gain a partial depth of understanding for evolution of the bands high-level talent, one could simply examine the rhythm section. Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes gained notoriety in the hip-hop world when he worked with the rapper D.J.Quick. Through this collaboration, he gained gigs as a songwriter for notables like Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull, and Mike Posner. He has also played on tracks by Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Kanye West. Quik started calling him Jesus because of his yoga and meditation practice, long beard and hair, and clean living. It stuck. His bass playing continues to grow immeasurably. Cypress Hill’s B-Real once said, “He walks on water on the track with the bass.”
Adam Deitch, who also plays in a brilliant duo called Break Science, has worked with Quik, John Scofield, and Pretty Lights, among others. He is also a well-known producer who has done tracks for 50-Cent, Talib Kweli, and Matisyahu. His insane precision and unique breakbeat style make him an in-demand drummer and someone fellow percussionists study closely. When Deitch and Coomes lock in as they did early in the show on the track “Bowler,” jumping from breaks that showcase the horns back to the main groove, it is a thing to behold. Later that night, after the show, Deitch would do a guest DJ set at The New Parish. He is relentless in his pursuit of sounds.
Though the seven-piece band mainly goes the instrumental route, Hall grabbed the vocals on a few great tracks including “Ready to Live” and “Do It Like You Do.” Hall, who also fronts the Nigel Hall Band, is an in-demand player who has toured with he likes The Warren Haynes Band and Ledesi. Opposite Hall on the upper riser behind the band was Neal Evans, who played organ/keys. He was a great counterpart to Coomes, throwing down some wicked organ bass lines on a few tracks.
The horn duo of Eric Bloom on trumpet and Ryan Zoidis on saxophone are also known as The Shady Horns. They double up for the band Soullive, which is pretty intertwined with Lettuce. The two packed plenty of punch into the set, with Bloom providing high energy and both hitting all the right notes. The duo were incredibly sharp. Rounding out the group was guitarist Adam ‘Smeeans” Smirnoff, who is a serious player. Smirnoff, who also plays in Hall’s band and Break Science from time to time, has taken his talent to the likes of Lady Gaga and The GZA.
Opening the show were The Floozies, a pair of brothers from Lawrence, Kansas who are pretty damn adept at the electro funk thing. Producer/guitarist Matt Hill mans a Powerbook and a guitar. While his brother Mark lays down a wicked groove on the drums, Matt is either calling up party funk on his computer or rocking his guitar impressively. The crowd were overwhelmingly impressed by the band’s opening set.
Before The Floozies set, The Russ Liquid Test entertained the crowd with a trippy set of soulful vintage stylings. Led by producer/brass specialist Russell Scott, this New Orleans group carved out a unique sound.
But on this night, Lettuce was the main focus for all. And they put a nice wrap on the whole thing with a freaky fun, celebratory finish “Sounds like a party” with Hall on vocals. Anybody within earshot could tell that it did indeed sound like a big ol’ party that night at the Fox.
For more information about Lettuce, see their website.
Everything you wanted to know about The Floozies can be found here.
Check out The Russ Liquid Test on their website.