Coming off a successful six-week tour through Europe earlier this fall, then buoyed by a high-profile power-hour at a sold-out Suwannee Hulaween in Florida, future-funk-hop pioneers Lettuce stormed the Southeast in mid-November, lookin’ live on arrival and feelin’ so fresh ‘n’ so clean.
The veteran squadron recently wrapped the eight-show romp through the Deep South, touring in support of their eighth studio album, Unify, released in June 2022. The region was rabid for a dose of the funk; Lettuce had not returned to many of these cities since before the pandemic pause. The quick jaunt touched down in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Atlanta before culminating with weekend shows in Mobile, AL (11/18) and New Orleans, LA (11/19).
The band’s extended European excursion in September and October brought the group even closer as brothers, four of whom have been making music together for nearly three decades. Thrilling experiences onstage and off served to sharpen the focus on their shared mission as they rocked rooms large and small to an ever-swelling fanbase across the pond. The fiery performances and positive vibrations traveled home with Lettuce, only to swifty rub off on the stateside engagements that followed.
The November Southeast dates would offer audiences two LETT sets, otherwise known as An Evening With Lettuce. Before the final weekend, the band dropped massive shows in Fayetteville, AR and Atlanta, GA; there was a palpable buzz in the air as we pulled into Mobile for a Friday night soiree.
Returning to Soul Kitchen for the first time since 2017, Lettuce took their spots onstage with bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes assuming a new position rear stage left, in between Nigel Hall’s mountain of keyboards in the center and drummer Adam Deitch flanked out on the stage left wing. Guitarist Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff remained center front, employing his trusty Gibson Les Paul axe for the duration of the weekend. Ryan Zoidis (saxophones, synth) and Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet)—a.k.a. The Lettuce Horns—were no longer perched on a rear riser, having returned to front stage right.
LETT launched into orbit with the rotund “RVA Dance” from Unify, stretching out a bit before starting up “Final Suppit”, a reworked arrangement of the seminal “Last Suppit”, from 2008’s sophomore LP Rage. A jammed out “Mt. Crushmore”, title track to the 2016 EP, saw things cryptically veer into a shadowy mood. Nigel took the reins with a spirited run through Cold Blood’s “Ready to Live”. A first frame highlight was the ever-rare rendition of “Ghosts of Jupiter” (Rage) featuring a sizzlin’ Latin-tinged segment from Zoidis on clean tenor sax.
Lettuce – “Ghost of Jupiter”, “Keep That Funk Alive” (Live Debut), “Checker Wrecker”, “La Di Da Di” (Slick Rick & Doug E. Fresh) – 11/18/22
The set climaxed with the debut of “Keep That Funk Alive”, Lettuce’s psychedelic crunk collab with Bootsy Collins that was the first single released from Unify. Collins handles the lead vocals on the record, but this night Shmeeans would step up to the mic to deliver the syrupy verses, much to the delight of the steamy Soul Kitchen crowd, who chanted along the chorus and roared in adoring approval.
After stomping through the subtronic “KTFA”, LETT made a hard left for the District, uncorking the go-go bounce of “Checker Wrecker”, from 2020’s Resonate, another number seldom performed. “Checker” detoured into “Run Joe” from go-go legend Chuck Brown, and D.C. native Nigel saw fit to spit a verse from Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s ’80s rap classic “La Di Da Di”.
After a short intermission, Lettuce returned to the stage for set two with “The Force”, the opening track from 2015’s Crush. A scintillating “Larimar” followed, the choice cut culled from 2019’s Grammy-nominated Elevate. “Larimar” detoured into early-’80s quiet storm territory, before Bloom leveled the entire room with his patented blend of personality and horn wizardry. “Larimar” eventually found its way into Parliament’s “Let Me Ride”, a smooth segue into a fatback G-funk groove.
The magniloquent bump of “Vamanos”—arguably Unify’s crown jewel—featured Zoidis shamanic sound collages, an array of color and texture during the improv section, before they flirted with Blondie’s “Rapture” (or was it KRS-ONE’s “Step Into A World”?). The band shifted gears into the familiar funk of “Squadlive”, complete with the old-school bridge heard on 2004 LP Live in Tokyo. “Squadlive” featured some slick hip-hop teases like “It Takes Two” by Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock, and Marva Whitney’s “It’s Your Thing”, later flipped for EPMD’s iconic late-’80s classic “It’s My Thing”.
A sublime Shmeeans intro unveiled “Breakout”; from Live in Tokyo, then later recorded by Soulive. The old-school tune is experiencing somewhat of a resurgence with LETT in 2022. “Breakout” swam in Soulquarian vibes, building a beautiful, swirling apex before unleashing the haymakers that announce “Relax” (Rage). Once a guaranteed pairing but nowadays a rarified treat, “Breakout” > “Relax” was chock full of the feels and reverberated deep in the chest cavity.
Hall took over as master of ceremonies for a swaggering “Do It Like You Do”, reconfigured as a J.B.’s-esque banger, complete with a fantastic segue into James Brown’s classic “Funky Drummer”. LETT brought it home with authority: an intro-less drop into “Blast Off” (Rage), the encore a frenzy of furious styles, each player throwin’ heat rocks all the way to the finish line.
The following evening, just two hours to the west, Lettuce would descend on the legendary Tipitina’s in New Orleans, a celebrated club with a storied history in the Crescent City. The band had not rocked Tip’s since Jazz Fest after dark—a.k.a. Fess Jazztival—in 2017, when the band’s lineup looked a little different, and the squad had not yet fully evolved into the shape-shifting cosmonauts they are in late 2022.
On an uptown Saturday night in the city that care forgot, the iconic room on Tchoupitoulas was sold out, and famed local artist Frenchy set up his easel near the soundboard to live paint the festivities. The decadent denizens of New Orleans were appropriately vibed up for the occasion, and LETT returned to the house that Fess built to turn this mutha out.
Lettuce – “Lett The World Know”, “Flu” > “House of Lett” – 11/19/22
[Video: Tipitina’s TV]
Lettuce would again kick things off with a Unify track, this time reaching for “LETT The World Know”, an elastic fatback banger that calls out to Minneapolis mojo and First Ave funk. The de facto star of the tour’s final show, Nigel Hall held court on lead vocals whilst wielding blazin’ B3 organ and acrobatic synths. Hall has called New Orleans home for nearly a decade, and his current-day energy and ethos are firmly rooted in this city, its customs, and localized attitude. This evening at Tipitina’s would turn into a tremendous threauxdown in Hall’s adopted hometown.
An essential cog in the Lettuce wheel for the past five-plus years, the keyboardist/vocalist is experiencing a personal and professional renaissance of sorts. Hall is happier, healthier, clear-eyed, and motivated by clean living. With solo releases, an official sample pack, and guest features galore, Nigel has stepped into a new realm of prolific collaborations, creative contributions, and seemingly effortless onstage prowess. Whether it was digging deep for trademark soulful, emotional vocals or peeling off analog synths with a newfound, unhinged ferocity, Nigel Hall was operating at full power in the bosom of the Big Easy.
Batting second at Tip’s was Shmeeans’ “The Flu”, a nascent number found on 2002 debut LP Outta Here. Lettuce spread wings into phantasmal spaces before an about-face and smooth segue into the four-on-the-floor electro-current that drives “House of LETT” (Resonate).
Since Lettuce’s European escapades, “House” has been nothing short of reborn, with various versions oscillating between styles native to Berlin, Bristol, and Chicago—often within the same performance. Such was the case at Tip’s, where the boys explored Type II topography, patiently working minimalist untz riddims into an erotic house-quake. They employed nuanced percussion, lyrical brass, Coomes’ subaqueous basslines, and assertive, disciplined low-end pulse from the spacecraft’s captain, Adam Deitch.
Nigel once again took command of the situation, rolling up a smoked-out rendition of the Mary Jane Girls‘ 1983 hit “All Night Long”, later made famous as the sample to LL Cool J’s seductive “Around the Way Girl”. After a nearly note-perfect reading of the Rick James-penned panty-dropper, another take on “Vamanos” followed, a deeper, darker, more sinister meditation in live-band sound design than the version detonated in Mobile a night earlier.
To close out a somewhat truncated first frame, Lettuce invited local legend Nicholas Payton to sit in on “Pocket Change” (Crush). An esteemed musicologist revered by multiple generations, and a mentor to both Hall and Benny Bloom, the world-class trumpet maestro grabbed his horn and gracefully swag-surfed atop a syncopated, purposeful “Pocket Change” . In just a couple of brilliant minutes onstage, Payton reminded everyone in the joint just exactly what time—and who’s town—it was before exiting the stage with appropriate steez, as the band wrapped up the fiery rare-groove workout.
After a brief pause for the cause, Lettuce returned for the final frame of this blazing eight-show run through the Southeast. The boys saved some juice for the home stretch and would somehow find yet another gear to level up for 75 minutes of Grade A Lettucefunk.
“Squadlive” kicked off set two with some Godfather-style chicken-scratch stank, hinting at James Brown’s “It’s A New Day”. An aggressive romp through “Chief it Up” saw Shmeeans really dig in on his Les Paul with soaring leads, as the band pushed the tempo and raised the temperature.
When it comes to LETT, the 20-minute segment that followed was about as good as it gets. Beginning with a scorching “New Reel” (Crush), the six phenoms locked into something spectacular. Moving with intention and precision, razor sharp hits and neck-snapping breaks, “New Reel” was downright lethal Lettuce. In lieu of finishing the song, the band deftly transitioned into “Waffles”, an aggressive thunderclap from Unify, as Coomes and Deitch schooled the room in low-end theory.
As “Waffles” levitated into the Tip’s rafters, Lettuce adroitly shifted into their take on Tears For Fears‘ timeless ’80s hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. This particular version was iridescent, revealed in a decidedly different arrangement – quasi Dilla-fied, with elements of “Waffles” subtly sewn into the sonic alchemy.
Three decades of supernatural connection was on display before our ears, a multi-hued organism mutating and transforming compositions on the fly. Six souls moving as one mystic dragon, accessing a collective flow state, probing lost civilizations buried centuries beneath the mighty Mississippi. Hall found his way to a verse from Bobby Caldwell‘s “Show Me the Light”, before the whole team returned to “Rule the World”; together the deep six landed this vessel with a humble verve.
Lettuce – “New Reel”, “Waffles” > “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” (Tears For Fears) > Waffles Remix – 11/19/22
[Video: upful LIFE]
A trifecta of Unify tracks followed that searing passage: “The Lock”, an angular, mid-tempo funk groove, is a nod to Jeffrey Lockhart—Lettuce’s longtime sensei, mentor, and teacher from the Wally’s days in mid-’90s Boston. The Tip’s version would incorporate The Headhunters’ “God Made Me Funky” into the gurgling gumbo of “The Lock”. Hall called out to Nicholas Payton – still chilling sidestage- to rejoin the group, this time on keys. Payton obliged, and the now-septet tore through “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”, a Clark Sisters’ rework with pertinent vocals penned by Hall himself.
“Hawk’s Claw”, a smoked-out psychedelic journey that borrows a bit of former keyboardist Neal Evans‘s writing style (he was affectionately known to his bandmates as “The Hawk”), was the set two parting shot. A patient, brooding cut that eventually unspooled into a dusty dancefloor banger with a prismatic, textural jam, “Hawk’s Claw” rinsed a now-throbbing Tipitina’s with a lysergic elixir that arrived right on time.
Lettuce left the stage for three minutes at the most, as throngs of throaty ragers stomped and screamed for more. The Voltron of Funk returned in short order, launching into the robust combo of “Madison Square” > “Trapezoid” > “Madison Square”. Quite possibly the band’s most beloved song, “Madison Square” is a bombastic anthem from 2012’s Fly that unveils a unique journey in sound each and every time out. This one ran the gamut of sonic emotions, and featured a diabolical detour into subterranean dub tombs.
An ethereal passage gestured the first few notes of “Trapezoid” (Elevate), announced as Benny Bloom barked at the moon, channeling both Ozzy Osbourne and DMX in a fit of pure stoke. The “Tip’s Trap” was delivered a bit faster than the norm, making for a serpentine seance unique to the occasion. Triumphant brass, abyssal bass, organic 808s, mosaic thump, all the usual suspects made their presence felt, but with a decided uptick in BPM, this “Trapezoid” hit just a wee bit different.
LETT paid proper tribute to Mannie Fresh and Mantronix before navigating back to a climactic “Madison Square” reprise. The grand finale put an emphatic exclamation point on the krewe’s long-awaited return to Tipitina’s Uptown, and wrapped a Day-Glo bow on Lettuce’s short run through the Deep South.
Setlist: Lettuce | Soul Kitchen | Mobile, AL | 11/18/22
Set 1: RVA Dance, Last Suppit (“Final Suppit”), Mt. Crushmore, Ready to Live, Ghost of Jupiter, Keep That Funk Alive# > Checker Wrecker [w/ Run Joe (Chuck Brown)]*
Set 2: The Force, Larimar, Let Me Ride (Parliament)*, Vámonos, Squadlive [w/It Takes Two (Rob Base), It’s My Thing (Marva Whitney)], Break Out, Relax, Do It Like You Do > Funky Drummer (James Brown)
Encore: Blast Off
Setlist: Lettuce | Tipitina’s | New Orleans, LA | 11/19/22
Set 1: Lett The World Know, Flu > House of Lett, All Night Long (Mary Jane Girls), Vámonos, Pocket Change (with Nicholas Payton on trumpet)
Set 2: Squadlive > Chief It Up, The New Reel* > Waffles > Rule The World (Tears For Fears) [Waffles Remix, w/Open Your Eyes (Bobby Caldwell)], The Lock [w/ God Made Me Funky (The Headhunters)]*, Be Alright (with Nicholas Payton on keys), Hawk’s Claw
Encore: Madison Square > Trapezoid > Madison Square
#first time played