Historic Meter Men’s singular syncopation in Tahoe

Meter men

Funk pioneers and original Meters are Leo Nocentelli, Zigaboo Modeliste and George Porter Jr. Tahoe Onstage images by Tim Parsons

“Not bad for old folks,” the Meter Men’s drummer Zigaboo Modeliste acknowledged to an enthused crowd near the end Tuesday’s Harrah’s Lake Tahoe concert. “Not bad for rheumatoid arthritis. Not bad for frequent urination.”

Syncopation, that unexpected beat, or in this case, punch line, strikes again.

People say syncopation is the reason the Meters are not as revered by music listeners as fellow funk pioneers Sly and the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield and Tower of Power.

But it was Dr. Funkenstein himself, George Clinton, who once told me the Meters is the band that influenced him the most. While the band is known by musicians and musicologists, it didn’t get much mainstream attention during its prime, the late 1960s through 1977. Not even a worldwide tour with the Rolling Stones made it famous.

Too much New Orleans, too much syncopation. Some people can’t dance to it, surmised Aaron Neville, who was not included in the Meters in the mid-1960s when it was hired to a regular Bourbon Street gig. The club owner didn’t want a singer, bandleader Art “Papa Funk” Neville said. What kind of genius doesn’t want to hear Aaron Neville?

Art Neville, who is retired from music, was replaced for some shows last fall by Phish’s Page McConnell. That is the connection that brought the Meter Men to Tahoe for a Phish after-party in the South Shore Room. Original members guitarist Leo Nocentelli, drummer Modeliste and bassist George Porter Jr. were joined by keyboardist John Gros for a concert that started at 11:45 p.m.

Minutes before the show was set to begin, security outnumbered concertgoers. Director of Entertainment John Packer was miffed. “There were 500 presale tickets sold,” he said.

A security guard, who like many probably didn’t know about the Meters, speculated what the Phish fans were doing outside the venue, listing a litany of drugs, including “whippets.”

The Whippets I am familiar with are the midrange disc golf drivers, one of which I used to get an ace at Bijou Community Park. I am getting out of touch, I suppose, and am like Modeliste, more familiar with frequent urination than drugs for recreation. Is that too much information?

The Meters appeared.

Longtime Tahoe drummer Frank “Fletch” Fletcher moved directly toward the stage, eyes focused on Modeliste. “This is like going to church,” he said.

After two songs, the South Shore Room was packed with fans, drawn to the music as if it were played by a “funkified” pied piper. I am certain the Meter Men was their inspiration to dance, not whippets.

They played many of their greatest hits, the ones that should have been on the radio: “Cissy Strut,” “Hey Pocky A-Way,” “Fire on the Bayou,” Cabbage Alley” and “Funkifiy Your Life.” The songs were extended by jams, including one on “He Bite Me,” clearly improvised by Zigaboo after Nocentelli broke a string and left the stage for a few minutes.

The 64-year-old drummer at the end of the show called out for oxygen.

Without a whiff of syncopation, he asked, “With this thin air, how do you smoke weed up here?”


The Meters South Shore Room, July 30, 2013

1st set
“Here Comes the Meter Men”
“Fire on the Bayou”
“Funkify Your Life”
“Cabbage Alley”
“Just Kissed My Baby”

2nd set
“(The World is a little Bit Under the Weather) Doodle-Opp”
“He Bite Me”
“Cissy Strut”
“It’s Your Thing”
“It Ain’t No Use”
Encore: “Hey Pocky A-Way”

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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