Tahoe Onstage images by Kurt E. Johnson. To see more of Johnson’s photos, visit his website HERE.
“Jesus Saved Funk” scrolled across Erick “Jesus’ Coomes’ LED sunglasses. The bassist and the rest of his merry band of Lettuce funksters may not have saved funk Feb. 5, but they certainly pushed it to new heights.
Lettuce kicked off Crystal Bay Casino’s three-night concert series “Mountain of Funk” in commanding fashion with a set that saw them flexing new material and expanding upon old favorites. Taking the stage to a packed Crown Room, it slammed into the crowd with a new song off the forthcoming album, “Evil Wu,” a song with blistering horns and heavy bass which sounded like the announcement of a conquering emperor. Lettuce certainly sounded tight and comfortable with the new track and continued to show excitement for its new material throughout the show by playing six new songs, half the set list, for the crowd’s listening pleasure. The new material has the hard and precise compositions the band is known for, but also makes room for more melodic and atmospheric journeys, like show-closer “Phyllis.” The band seems happy with their new creations and the fans should be as well.
Besides the new songs, the Lettuce lineup had a new look, too. Due to the launch of his new record label, guitarist Eric Krasno was not in attendance for the show and will miss some time playing in Lettuce for extended parts of their tour. In a press release explaining is recent absences Krasno said, “In the past few years I have taken on a lot of new projects as a producer, writer and am now in the process of launching a new label. These ventures along with other bands and shows that I do from time to time make it hard for me to commit to every Lettuce show now that the band has become a full-time touring machine.” He went on to note that he will be playing on select dates through this year. The guitarist’s label, Feel Records, will release the upcoming album from Brooklyn rock trio the London Souls.
Though Krasno was surely missed by both the band and fans, Lettuce still packs quite a lot of punch and this slimmed down version of the band is as agile and creative as ever. Guitarist Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff continued his unwavering rhythm duties but seemed to relish in playing a couple extra solos in Krasno’s absence, playing an especially inspired solo on a new tune, “Chief”. The Shady Horns, consisting of trumpet player Eric “Benny” Bloom and saxophonist Ryan Zoidis, punctuated the funk with powerful arrangements that would be at home on any Tower of Power or James Brown record and kept things interesting by playing different arrangements over favorite tunes like “Madison Square”.
The band kept things fresh by bringing out Nigel Hall halfway through the set to add his vocal prowess to a trio of funk covers. Hall’s vocals soared on Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” and in the extended jam the band showcased its musical dexterity by dipping into funk and salsa-tinged jams. Eventually, the stage became a pulpit as Hall did his best Baptist minister impression and raised a chorus “Amens!” from the crowd before kicking back into song. A funky rendition of “Do It Like You Do” led into a feverish “Super Bad” in which the whole band froze midsong until the roar of the audience was enough to send them back into the groove.
Lettuce held the crowd locked in a tight bounce all night until leaving the stage shortly after midnight to rapturous cheers. It handily scaled the “Mountain of Funk” and left the people of Tahoe wanting more.
— Garrett Bethmann