GEORGE PORTER, JR. RECONSTRUCTS METERS CLASSICS
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The Meters aren’t the most sampled funk group of all time — they are near the top, however — but there’s no arguing their prominence throughout hip-hop of all stripes. Their tighly syncopated grooves are the foundation of pop staples (Aaliyah’s “Are You that Somebody?”), DJ specials (J Dilla’s Beat CD ’05 #3), East Coast (Public Enemy’s “Timebomb”), West Coast (N.W.A.’s N—-z 4 Life”) conscious (Digable Planet’s “Black Ego”), and old school (Big Daddy Kane’s “Long Live the Kane”), and it’s the DNA of bassist George Porter, Jr. that reverberates through them the strongest. Therein his bass playing is framed perfectly for all time, but Porter in 2014 is much less concerned with perfectionism than he is reconciliation.
Saturday night at High Rock Outfitters, Porter wasn’t shy about going deep into the Meters’ catalog, but he and his longtime solo band, the Runnin’ Pardners, looked upon them with fresh ears, offering interpretations of how he wants them to be heard today rather than how they’re most remembered. If that meant imagining them outside the broad sphere of New Orleans, then so be it. “Just Kissed My Baby” didn’t so much swing as growl with swampy peril, and “Cissy Strut” was tuned down by guitarist Brint Anderson. Porter’s vision was to make some of the funkiest songs ever written even funkier — and in the case of Earl King’s “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)”, gave it a new life altogether — and if the methods weren’t exactly ingenious, the results spoke for themselves.
Among the highest of New Orleans musical royalty, Porter was nonetheless inclined to lead from outside the spotlight. His bandmates took more solos than Porter, the best of which was twenty-something drummer Terrance Houston’s ferocious clinic (all while wearing a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt over his face), which also doubled as a set break for his mates. Assume it takes a special talent to play such an integral sole opposite one of the most important living bassists at such a young age, and Houston’s talents still might have exceeded expectations.
There’s no stealing the spotlight from Porter, however, even if he doesn’t actively seek it out. He was rarely showy, but his nimble, rippling bass is a wonder to behold — his hands are in constant motion, pushing his band’s big moments further, and in possession of a tone that’s felt more than it’s heard. He did save his one eruption of low-end majesty as the precursor to his most famous solo cut, “I Get High (Every Time I Think About You)”.
That track also gave him the chance to show off his singing voice, which is certainly overshadowed by his bass playing, even if it’s not deserved. It isn’t rangy or textured like Art Neville’s, but it is soulful and rumbling (he got an uncredited vocal spot on Tori Amos’s Boys for Pele reissue), styled after his more prominent abilities. When he sings The Impressions’ “Check Out Your Mind”, he summons requisite conviction, and he captures the essential goofiness of “Doin’ the Dirt.” It’s more likely the product of nurture versus nature, which Porter, of course, is okay with these days. !