Lettuce & The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Live Review
By Benjamin Thomas
TDJ News Corps
TORONTO, June 26, 2014
Rain should never stop anyone from dancing. On Wednesday night, it poured down on the few people frantically running to the Toronto Star Stage in Nathan Philips Square for shelter—and for a set from Brooklyn funk outfit Lettuce. With less than half the venue filled, things seemed grim as the openers, the legendary Dirty Dozen Brass Band, took the stage. The twelve seasoned veterans looked down at the sparse crowd and, rather than being disgruntled, pointed out each person that they saw with a smile on their face. The band used every bit of enthusiasm and energy and channeled it into its performance.
The Dirty Dozen formed 37 years ago in the hopes of preserving classic New Orleans jazz. However, their time together has been an iterative process. Over the years, the band developed a sound frontman Gregory Davis compares to gumbo (a traditional southern dish combining various flavours and spices). After a brief dismissal of the rain, Davis and his bandmates got the ball rolling with an energetic dance number that inspired the crowd to stand up and clap along. Numbers like “Do It Fluid” and “Tomorrow” kept the pace going, albeit with very similar sounding jams. But the band did offer ample time for players to solo and really shine through.
Yet again at the festival, sound-mixing was an issue, with the drums heavily clipping and the trumpets too low in the mix. Kevin Harris and Davis kept signalling for the engineer to push up the levels but, seasoned pros as they are, when trouble hit they simply jumped to another mic.
The second half of the Dozen’s set was much smoother. They called up multiple girls to dance along with their songs, and the crowd followed suit; the venue became increasingly full as passersby joined the fun. By the end of their set, the band had transitioned flawlessly from New Orleans jams to afro-funk grooves and had the whole crowd standing at attention.
When Lettuce took to the stage, it seemed clear very few people knew what to expect from the young funk ensemble. Many older audience members sat in their chairs, arms folded. However, after their opening number everyone understood—Lettuce is the epitome of funk. Drummer Adam Deitch and his band came through with vengeance. With a saxophonist and a trumpeter, the brass section was a full group of its own, blaring through sexy solos and adding the extra “oomph” to the breakbeats. Soulive cohorts Eric Krasno and Neal Evans added their signature chicken-grease flavour.
Taking just a few seconds between songs to thank the audience, Lettuce moved from jam to jam, consistently raising the bar. If the Dirty Dozen got people dancing, Lettuce had them shaking feverishly. By around the band`s third song, the entire open floor around the seated area was populated by young fans making dance circles and other young listeners joining the fun.
The band brought out singer Alecia Chakour for three songs, the announcement of which had some dancers concerned the show would turn into an R&B slow jam. They were wrong. Belting out the sassiest and most powerful vocals of the night, Chakour and the band continued the momentum, and closed out one of the liveliest performances of the festival.
Overall, Lettuce had even the most skeptical of jazz aficionados whooping and hollering for their new, daring approach to funk. The venue was damp and sweaty but full of bright energy, contrasting with the dark pouring rain outside. With fat drums, powerful horns and groovy bass lines, Lettuce needs to let us hear more.