This past Jazz Fest marked a full-circle moment for one beloved concert series as The Funk Sessions came to New Orleans. The long-running series of funk blowouts with rotating lineups, which began in Denver in early 2019, was initially inspired by the collaborative spirit of New Orleans. On Saturday, April 27th—technically the wee hours of Sunday the 28th—the never-before-seen Funk Sessions configuration of guitarist Nels Cline (Wilco), saxophonist Skerik (Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade), drummer Stanton Moore (Galactic), and keyboardist Wil Blades came together at NOLA’s Toulouse Theatre to show that “funk” is open to interpretation.

While New Orleans isn’t exactly the first city that comes to mind when one thinks of Midwestern sadboi OGs Wilco, Cline settled into one of the two-week Big Easy bacchanal’s most highly anticipated collaborations with ease in his first-ever appearance with The Funk Sessions. Although Skerik, Moore, and Blades have all played together for years, the performance at Toulouse Theatre marked the first onstage meeting between Moore and Cline—though after witnessing their instant chemistry, we’re sure it won’t be the last.

Nels and Stanton were certainly locked in throughout the evening, but it was Cline’s instrumental communication with saxophone psycho Skerik that stole the show. The two forces pushed each other further and further out into the ether in a performance that at times bordered on pure experimentation. Other times, the quartet found its way into established compositions like Cline original “Imperfect 10”, Skerik’s “Serpico Waltz”, songs by Dr. Lonnie Smith and Jack McDuff, and other instrumental numbers.

Trudges through cosmic muck would suddenly shift to swinging jazz throughout the nearly two-hour, single-set performance. While the packed crowd was a sea of smiles and dropped jaws, you could argue that the man who enjoyed the show most was Skerik, whose flabbergasted facial expressions during Cline’s moments of blistering technicality and effects wizardry were nearly as entertaining as the music. At one point, the saxophonist appeared to watch Cline’s guitar notes float through the air and over the audience, attempting to catch one like it was as tangible as a lightning bug. Just like the show itself, those cosmic notes emitting from Cline’s guitar were fleeting, and the marathon performance eventually closed with an encore of Jeff Beck‘s “Beck’s Bolero” in tribute to the late guitar hero.

Check out a collection of fan-shot videos from The Funk Sessions featuring Nels Cline, Skerik, Stanton Moore, and Wil Blades below along with full-show audio thanks to taper PhilthyDan. The Funk Sessions will return to Denver in its traditionally funky format for an official Outside Music Festival after-party on Saturday, June 1st at Cervantes’ Other Side. The lineup will feature drummer Adam Deitch (Lettuce), saxophonist Dominic Lalli (Big Gigantic), guitarist Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff (Lettuce), trumpeter Eric “Benny” Bloom (Lettuce), keyboardist BIGYUKI, bassist Brad Miller, and other surprise guests. Tickets are on sale here.

The Funk Sessions — Toulouse Theatre — New Orleans, LA — 4/27/24 — Full Audio

[Audio: Randy Bayers]

The Funk Sessions – “Beck’s Bolero” (Jeff Beck) – 4/27/24

[Video: FunkItBlog]

 

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