Summertime in New York was in full effect, the hot sun beating down on the back of my neck as I hopped in a cab from the airport to meet up with my FutureType band members at a Williamsburg studio space. My band hadn’t played in over a year since I had relocated to Toronto after a 6+ year stint in New York, and it seemed that the 7pc Electro-Soul band would never play again.
In addition to me being away in Toronto, bandleader Miles Felix’s career as producer/composer was flourishing with production work for Method Man, Ty Dolla $ign, Melanie Fiona, Big Boi, and Talib Kweli, and scoring work with Vice TV, Cartier, Nike, and, his biggest break yet, scoring music for Rihanna’s SAVAGE X FENTY lingerie line launch party at Fendi, in which a hologram of RiRi danced to his compositions. He decided that he just was too busy to continue with the band project.
However, in early May, I had received a call from the band MC/Saxophonist that the album we had been working on hadn’t been abandoned and that Miles Felix had finally found time to edit the tracks from recording sessions almost 2 years prior. As the band manager and guitarist, I reached out to clubs the band had previously packed to host the band’s sophomore EP release and final show. I soon received the news that a slot to open for The Zapp Band at Brooklyn Bowl had become available. I couldn’t believe that the Zapp Band, the group with the early 80s funk sound which was heavily sampled by 90’s West Coast hip-hop, was still together and touring. I had assumed that the band would have disbanded after the tragic deaths of founders Roger and Larry Troutman in a murder-suicide carried out by the older Larry.
[FutureType’s Miles Felix poses with Zapp’s talkbox]
FutureType was a great fit, as we had also prominently featured the Talkbox and Electro elements—sounds which Zapp pioneered. After securing the opening slot by sweet-talking the band manager, I worked quickly to get the new EP ready for release via my NuFunk Records label, named after my Toronto concert production company that primarily promoted breakbeat DJs, jam bands and funk-related acts.
As I shared the show news to our friends, the bill evolved quickly with the addition of one of my favorite guitarists, Leo Nocentelli of the Meters. A late show by The New Deal was also added, a welcome addition as I had promoted and produced their final show with drummer Darren Shearer in 2011.
We were super excited about opening for a larger act. However, we’d never opened for a nostalgia act like Zapp and were nervous that they would feel more like a tribute band. Nevertheless, we were excited to be revisiting the material we’d been building since the band’s beginning in 2016, plus the new material from our new EP, Darktime.
We arrived at soundcheck and met Zapp drummer, Lester Troutman, who questioned me about how I knew his name, calling himself the “real” Lester, a tongue-in-cheek jab at his son Lester Jr who was now the band’s agent/manager and who I had previously convinced into having us on the show. He was a true gentleman, asking questions about the band and expressing his excitement to see us play.
[Jammin with Leo Nocentelli at Soundcheck]
At soundcheck, I got to spend some time with Leo Nocentelli, one of my guitar heroes, who allowed me to jam with him on one of the Meters’ hits, “Fire on The Bayou”. There had been lots of behind-the-scenes discussions in the scene about Leo, whose guitar style had moved away from the funk riff-based sound he was known for in the Meters to a more ‘shredding’ style that didn’t quite hit the mark. He’d also seemed to be at odds with his The Meters brothers over the years, and had not been a part of the funky Meters Band (1989-2017) that featured 3 other founding members.
[FutureType opens the show to a full house]
FutureType hit the stage and played one of our most memorable shows to date. The crowd was really into the electro-soul sound which was highlighted by the driving drumming of Antibalas drummer Kevin Raczka, tight horn section of saxophonist Daniel J Cohn, trombonist, Eli Chalmer and trumpeter Rachel Therrien, soulful vocals by singer Chris Bruffee, clever wordplay by MC DJC, keyboard/talkbox by Miles Felix and myself on guitar.
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If you grew up in the 80s and 90s you know west coast hip hop. And if you know west coast hip hop, than you know #zappband whether you know it or not. These guys were so humble and down to earth considering their contribution to music, and they out partied pretty much everyone in there. #westcoasthiphop #californialove #2pac #rogertroutman #zappband #80sfunk #synthfunk #brooklynbounce #party #oldschoolparty #90shiphop #hiphop #danceparty #timetoparty #livefunk #funky #grooves #zapp
Then, like the sound of their name, Zapp hit the stage like a bolt of lightning. The band was shameless in their Las Vegas-style live show, playing up kitschy funk vibes and having an absolute blast on stage. There were just so many moments of that performance that were unlike any other show I’ve seen, like when Terry Troutman pulled off a perfect backflip or when Lester played his drum solo and went into “Uptown Funk” before segueing perfectly into their 1980 hit, “More Bounce to the Ounce”. The “Uptown Funk” was a fitting, tongue-in-cheek homage, as the mega-hit’s producer, Mark Ronson, was accused of lifting the song from Zapp and damages were settled out of court.
Zapp Band – “More Bounce to the Ounce”
[Video: Jay Cleary]
There were talkbox solos through the crowd, wardrobe changes, guitar solos on band member shoulders, afro wigs. They had complete control over the audience and channeled a combination of that Motown-style, well-choreographed show with their own zany antics.
[Leo Nocentelli digs in for a solo on “Fire on the Bayou” with the Zapp Band]
Leo Nocentelli joined the band next, providing lead vocals for his 1975 hit with the Meters, “Fire on the Bayou”, and 1969’s “Cissy Strut”. The show then paused to give the Brooklyn Bowl staff a chance to present Leo with a birthday cake celebrating 72 years. Amid all the speculation that Leo was not the guitar player he used to be, he really delivered the goods, propelled by The Zapp Band’s incredible rhythm section.
[The Zapp Band hides their drummer]
One of my favorite moments of the Zapp show was when they brought a big screen onstage which hid the drummer. At first, the move was confusing, but after a few minutes, the screen was pulled back to reveal two guys dressed to the nines as pimps ready to funk out onstage. A funk assault then followed, which ended up with the band inviting the audience to join them on the stage for one final jam.
After “tearin’ the house off the sucka”, the Brooklyn Bowl staff did some quick work to turn around the stage for Canadian live-electronica pioneers The New Deal. Since reforming in 2014, the band has continued to be a powerhouse of the live electronica scene, playing alongside their friends The Disco Biscuits and Umphrey’s McGee. Replacing their drummer for the third time, the new guy behind the kit is Torontonian Davide Di Renzo. Considered one of the most versatile and an in-demand drummers in Canada, Davide has won awards for backing jazz, traditional, rock and pop artists. Davide brings that hard-hitting energy not seen since Darren Sheild’s stint in the band.
The Brooklyn Bowl filled up even more for The New Deal, a testament to the band who continues to push the boundaries of their sound. For two solid sets, The New Deal laid down trance-inducing soundscapes, touching on some of their classic hits but keeping it fresh with exploratory improvisations led by keyboardist Jamie Sheilds. The chemistry with their new drummer was evident—Davide has rejuvenated the band and help propel the band’s sound with build-ups and crescendos reminiscent of their original drummer Darren.
What strikes me the most about the New Deal’s sound is that they often come across too progressive for the ravers used to more repetitive sounds, and often too electronic for the jam band crowd. Finding their sound in the gap between ravers and jam banders, The New Deal has set themselves apart by defining the jamtronica fusion style that has gone on to influence livetronica bands all over the world.
After the show, I was sitting with my FutureType bandmates in the Brooklyn Bowl restaurant. We were glowing about having been a part of such an incredible night of music. Antibalas’ drummer, Kevin, acknowledged that he thought that Zapp’s performance was up there in the top shows he’d seen in his lifetime. Miles Felix confessed that he had one of his best nights as well, admitting, “This can’t be the final show!”
Check out FutureType’s new EP, Darktimes below:
FutureType – Darktime – Full EP
[All photos by Jay Cleary]