YOU CAN LOOK ALL AROUND this whole wide world and not come across another band that sounds like PBS.
There are some that sound similar, but the unique approach and dynamic — not to mention the almost hypnotic grooves this intense and relentless power trio are capable of conjuring up— at their fabled live shows belongs to no one else.
Comprised of three key members of the Funky Meters (Big Easy rock and R&B royalty whose lineup set the standard for greasy, chicken-fried strut for decades), this tighter-than-imaginable band blur the line between syncopated N’awlins call-and-response, funked-up, rump-shaking dance music, psychedelic rock jamming and improv-heavy jazz fusion.
“It’s like Cream playin’ James Brown,” laughs guitarist and vocalist Brian Stoltz, who says the camaraderie and empathy between he and his bandmates is what keeps them together — and allows them to lay down such monster tracks.“It’s kinda like there’s three people playing, but really only one instrument,” he says with a hearty laugh.
“You know, over the years we’ve played together so much. I joined the Funky Meters with George (Porter, Jr.) and Russell (Batiste) in 1994, I believe. So, there’s a common bond of music between us. The bond itself is hard to explain. It’s the sound of three individuals finding that one bandwidth or space where there’s one communal mind working.”
That fruits of that communal mind are evident in abundance on the group’s latest album, Moodoo. Recorded live in Burlington, Vt. in November 2007, the record documents the energy and ferocity of the band’s live shows, with an added bonus: keyboardist Page McConnell of the jam-band legends Phish sits in with the group on more than half the tracks. His swirling organ adds yet another color to the PBS palette, and helps the group soar on what will likely go down as one of the more memorable live albums released this year.
While devoted fans of both Phish and PBS have been searching fruitlessly for any recorded evidence of this impromptu collaboration, it turns out that the group had a quality recording of the show stashed away the whole time — even though until recently, they had no intention of releasing it.
“We multi-track record ever single show, just to have ‘em,” explains Stoltz. “Somewhere around February of this year, we started to think we should try to have a new album out to sell around the time of the (New Orleans) Jazz Fest, but even though we had a few studio tracks done, there was no way we’d have a full record finished. So, we started digging through live tracks and we remembered the show we did with Page.”
The album, which has just hit stores, is being aggressively marketed online, and critical response resulted in McConnell actually joining up with the band for a string of live dates as a featured guest. While some press releases have erroneously posited that the keyboardist will be on hand at this upcoming Savannah gig, Stoltz says that’s a mistake.
“Page won’t be with us on this short run of shows,” he says. “Unless there’s something I don’t know!”However, Stoltz says he and his bandmates love adding McConnell’s chops into their show, and are eager to tour with him again.
“That will absolutely happen sooner rather than later,” he asserts.
For now, however, fans can grab the album for aural proof of just how much a killer keyboardist does for an already great rock band, while getting their fill of the group’s default lineup in River St.’s recently retooled Live Wire Music Hall. And although some folks who’ll turn out may have seen PBS before, that’s no guarantee the music they hear booming off that low stage will sound entirely familiar.
That’s because this band is adamant about letting themselves be open to reinterpreting their songs as the mood strikes them.
“That’s exactly what keeps this band together. We’re never thinking about the music. We’re just submerged in it and it just flows. Once you have a setlist that you feel compelled to follow, you have to think about what’s coming next. We prefer to not know what’s coming next! (laughs)”
The former Neville Brothers guitarist (whose licks from 1989’s Oh Mercy sessions can be heard on Bob Dylan’s brand-new Bootleg Series boxed set Tell Tale Signs) says that like most percussive, funk-oriented guitarists, he was initially drawn to the drums.
“Yeah, when I was eight years old, I wanted to be Ringo (Starr). But my folks said learn a real instrument first and then maybe drums. I think what they really meant was learn an instrument we can turn down! (laughs)”
These days, the joy he brings to PBS’ unusually diverse audience is what keeps the band going, as long as those fans don’t think of the band in narrow stylistic terms.
“I can’t really use the funk label anymore with PBS. We’re so far beyond that, that I just have to write it off. The music we make is growing into another thing. The people wrap into that too and they go along for the ride. That’s when the whole thing just seems to take off.” cs
Read the complete interview here.
Wagatail Presents: Porter Batiste StoltzWhere: Live Wire Music HallWhen: Wed., Oct. 29, 8 pmCost: $15 adv. @ livewiremusichall.comInfo: porterbatistestoltz.com