On Saturday evening, the funk gurus of Lettuce hosted a party of massive proportions at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. After last year’s inaugural Rage Rocks, the nationally-spread funk masters were set on outdoing themselves for the second annual iteration of the event, inviting Ghostface Killah, George Porter Jr., John Scofield, Marcus King, and Cyril Neville to join them for their Red Rock takeover. With Turkuaz, The Russ Liquid Test, and J Rocc (of the Beat Junkies) all supporting the bill, this year’s Rage Rocks was a magical and funk-fueled extravaganza from start to finish that is sure to go down in the books as one of the finer performances to ever grace the Red Rocks stage.
J Rocc—the founder and “Funky President” of the DJ crew, the World Famous Beat Junkies—kicked off the show on Saturday, giving the audience a taste of his innovative turntable stylings that helped catapult the Beat Junkies to international stardom since the 90’s. With the sun still high in the sky, his expertly mixed funk-flavored jams set the tone for the evening as the crowd began to pack into the iconic amphitheater. Those who didn’t get to catch the infamous DJ’s relatively short set were in luck, as J Rocc later came out and supplied his tunes during Lettuce’s set break later in the night.
Up next was the Russ Liquid Test, the electro-funk trio comprised of Russell Scott, Andrew Block, and Deven Trusclair. With Trusclair’s drums locking it all together, the bubbly guitar offered by Block and Scott’s radiant performance on trumpet and keys had the entire audience feeling good. For the majority of their set, the Russ Liquid Test was focused on crafting danceable grooves, with many of their songs pulled from their debut album, 1984, which was released late last year. Foreshadowing the collaborative nature of the rest of the evening, rapper JuBee came out for a song toward the beginning of the Russ Liquid Test’s set, hyping the crowd with his energized cameo. To close it out, the Russ Liquid Test deviated from their funk-dominated setlist, offering a heavy, rock-infused last number as a refreshing palette cleanser before the next performance.
[Video courtesy of Da Beaman]
The massive Brooklyn nine-piece funk outfit that is Turkuaz—plus Nate Werth of Snarky Puppy on percussion, bringing their total to ten—rounded out the support for the evening, making a stunning debut at Red Rocks and perfectly priming the crowd for Lettuce. With each member in a bright monochromatic get-up, Turkuaz came to show Colorado a good time, easily slapping grins on the audience with their upbeat songs, synchronized dancing, and stellar multi-talented musicians. Across their performance, it’s apparent that outside of being excellent musicians in their own right, Turkuaz is composed of performers, with a meticulous attention to showmanship that manifests in their rainbow-inspired accoutrements, ridiculously coordinated choreography, and captivating energy, both individually and as a unit, on stage. They’re an absolute pleasure to watch, and it seems as though the sky’s the limit for the group.
From their opening number, “Chatte Lunatique,” the group mesmerized Red Rocks with the vocal harmonies offered by Dave Brandwein, Sammi Garett, and Shira Elias packing a powerful punch to start of their set, which was followed by “Future 86,” for which the crowd easily coasted on Taylor Shell’s prominent bass line. During “Percy Thrills The Moon Dog,” drummer Michelangelo Carubba and guest percussionist Nate Werth went to town during an extended drum break, delighting with their dynamic interplay. Turkuaz slowed things down with “Nightswimming,” and the laid-back number led into “If I Ever Fall Asleep,” a percussive and 80’s-inspired song featuring soaring guitar riffs by Craig Brodhead, synth-y adornments by Chris Brouwers on the keys, and Garett and Elias laying down a perfect choral backing for the song.
“Holy Ghost” was all about vocalist and baritone saxophonist Josh Schwartz, who stole the spotlight with his falsetto and beatboxing. The song also further highlighted the unorthodox versatility of the various members of Turkuaz—also made apparent by Brouwer frequently simultaneously playing trumpet and keys and Brodhead switching off between guitar and keys throughout the set. After “Coast to Coast” came to a massive close heralded in by Greg Sanderson on tenor sax, Turkuaz invited out Steve Swatkins (Allen Stone) to join in on keys for “Everyone’s A Winner,” whose propulsive and heavy bass line carried the song and eventually dumped into a giant solo for Shell between Elias and Garett switching off on verses. Swatkins departed for the second to last song, “Lookin’ Tough, Feelin’ Good,” a powerhouse for the rhythm section to show off their chops during its instrumental break. To close out their set, Turkuaz ended on a high with the song, “Monkey Fingers,” which saw Swatkins return and throw down on the talk box.
Setlist: Turkuaz | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO | 5/13/2017
Set: Chatte Lunatique, Future 86, Percy Thrills The Moon Dog, Nightswimming, If I Ever Fall Asleep, Holy Ghost, Coast To Coast, Everyone’s A Winner*, Lookin’ Tough Feelin’ Good, Monkey Fingers*
Notes: * with Steve Swatkins
With the crowd properly hyped following Turkuaz’s performance, Lettuce took the stage and were clearly ready to rage the Rocks, throwing down two sets during the night that showcased not only the group’s immense musicality but also their huge range of influences and their ability to transcend genre to create a sound wholly their own. Lettuce brought out their full line-up of heavy hitters for the night, with both Eric Krasno and Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff expertly holding down guitar duties, and Nigel Hall, along with adding his soulful vocals to the mix, joining Neal Evans on keys. In addition to the many special guests on the bill who emerged throughout the night, the Shady Horn’s Eric “Benny” Bloom and Ryan Zoidis were joined by trumpeter Rashawn Ross (Dave Matthews Band, formerly Lettuce), further augmenting the Shady Horn’s already larger-than-life sound. As is only appropriate for a massive show such as Red Rocks, the night was also made to be a family affair, which saw frequent sit-ins by Tycoon Coomes, brother to bass wizard Jesus Coomes, and Bobby Deitch, father of Lettuce’s resident drum virtuoso Adam Deitch, on auxiliary percussion.
After taking the stage, Lettuce kicked things off with the dramatic intro from their Live In Tokyo album, which moved into the triumphant “Blast Off,” serving as a formal announcement that the group was ready to get into it and had no plans of holding back. Following “The Last Suppit,” Deitch championed in “116th Street”—off their latest album, Mt. Crushmore, which was released during the tail-end of last year and promoted with their extensive winter tour that wrapped up in March—with its pulsing keys and rapid-fire horns effectively dialing in the crowd before Benny Bloom saluted and led out of the song with a wailing trumpet solo. “Bowler” was up next, and the locked-in rhythm section provided a solid base for the song’s cascading, psychedelic melody and crisp, syncopated horn adornments. Zoidis built the song to its peak, with an initially minimal sax solo that eventually climbed to an intense and soaring apex.
For their first guest of the evening, Marcus King came out for the bluesy number “Love Is Too Strong,” with his powerful and soulful voice elevating the song to the next level and offering the crowd shred-heavy guitar licks in between verses. The guitars were going three strong, and Krasno, Smirnoff, and King were clearly loving it, at points all turning in toward one another and grinning at their combined huge sound. Marcus King departed following the tune, with percussionist Nate Werth of Snarky Puppy (and who sat-in with Turkuaz earlier during the show) coming out for “Lettsanity.” The drum break of the song was led in call-and-response style, before the two drummers got fully into their dynamic collaboration, eventually unifying their playing to end the song together.
The legendary guitarist John Scofield then emerged for “Back In Effect” and “The Flu,” both Scofield and Lettuce collaborations originally off of 2002’s Outta Here. For “Back In Effect,” Scofield’s guitar stylings were a soulful addition to lead through to the peak of the jazz-funk-infused song. In contrast, Deitch and Jesus welcomed in the dark groove of “The Flu,” with Scofield’s guitar dancing over the propulsive rhythm engine, eventually slowing to a crawl for the song’s syncopated close. Nigel Hall then came forward, calling Sco “the greatest of all time” as the celebrated guitarist took his leave of the stage.
“Back In Effect” with John Scofield
[Video courtesy of Manuel Ortega]
To close out the first set, with Nigel taking on the vocals of the song, Lettuce enraptured Red Rocks with a celebratory rendition of “Do It Like You Do.” Zoidis came out and joined Hall front and center for his solo, with the pair getting down on a shared two-step. As the solo’s volume dropped, Zoidis, Hall, and the whole band crouched down, eventually standing as Zoidis built the song into a frenzy. “Do It Like You Do” ended Lettuce’s first set on a high note, with the energy further boosted by the coordinated musical pause before the song’s close.
J Rocc provided the musical stylings during Lettuce’s quick set break before Lettuce reemerged, all wearing cloaks for “Requiem,” a heavy and dramatic tune with Neal Evan’s swirling, baroque keys at its center. After this introduction into the second set, the infamous Ghostface Killah of Wu-Tang Clan emerged to spit verses during a medley “Mighty Healthy,” “C.R.E.A.M.,” and O.D.B.’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” The audience and musicians alike were rightfully beyond stoked on Ghostface’s performance, with the audience throwing up Ws to send off the legendary rapper.
Lettuce was fully dialed in as they moved into their next song, “Chief,” that featured tasty solos from both Smirnoff and Bloom over the song’s mystical groove. Next, Nigel Hall welcomed “a staple of New Orleans music,” Cyril Neville to the stage for a rendition of his song “Gossip.” Krasno’s guitar led the way into the song, eventually yielding to Neville’s passionate vocals, and then the two of them exchanging the lead on the song. The pioneering bassist of The Meters, George Porter Jr. came out to join Neville and Lettuce for the next two songs for a full-on New Orleans-style celebration. George led the vocals on “I Need More Time,” with Krasno and Smirnoff’s parallel guitar riffs dividing out the verses. Cyril joined Tycoon on percussion, and the sound of the ensemble was beyond massive during the collaboration with each instrument minus saxophone represented twice. This song was also Rashawn Ross time to shine, laying out a transcendent performance on trumpet during his solo.
“I Need More Time” led directly into The Meters’ “Africa,” with Cyril Neville taking over on vocal duties for Porter. There’s a touching multi-generational aspect to watching George Porter Jr. and Jesus play together, as the elder statesmen of the funk scene got down with the younger renowned bassist who is poised with Lettuce to continue to shape today’s and the future’s funk sound. After this colossal New Orleans-style collaboration, Neville and Porter left the stage, leaving Lettuce to wrap up their set with the forever crowdpleaser “Phyllis.” With Jesus donning his wizard hat for the set closer, the crowd rode high on the laid-back and spacious groove of the song. For their encore, Lettuce closed their night and their Red Rocks takeover with “Sounds Like A Party To Me,” with Nigel Hall again coming front and center for vocals and also serving as the master of ceremonies by breaking down the intros for the musicians on stage during the song’s instrumental break.
Lettuce’s second Rage Rocks performance on Saturday was a massive collaborative musical celebration that is destined to go down in the books. You can check out the setlist below, and relive some of this weekend’s magic with a photo gallery by Phierce Photo.
Setlist: Lettuce | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO | 5/13/2017
Set One: Tokyo Intro, Blast Off, The Last Suppit, 116th Street, Bowler, Love Is Too Strong*, Lettsanity^, Back In Effect#, The Flu#, Do It Like You Do
Set Two: Requiem $, Mighty Healthy $ > C.R.E.A.M $, Shimmy Shimmy Ya $, Chief It Up, Gossip %, I Need More Time/Africa %+, Phyllis, Ziggawat, Squadlive
Encore: Sounds Like A Party To Me
Notes: * with Marcus King, ^ with Nate Werth, # with John Scofield, $ with Ghostface Killah, % with Cyril Neville, + with George Porter Jr.