PREVIEW Since we're dealing with a reunion here, let's start with what's missing: the funky Meters are not the same as the original Meters. You might own some records by the plain old Meters, the New Orleans funk unit whose best-known full-lengths are Look-Ka Py Py (Josie, 1969) and Fire on the Bayou (Reprise, 1975). That version of Meters consisted of in addition to singer-keyboardist Art Neville and bassist George Porter Jr. guitarist Leo Nocentelli and drummer Joseph Modeliste. The band, which broke up in 1977, reformed in 1989 as the funky Meters, with the latter two original members being replaced, at different points, by Brian Stoltz and Russell Batiste Jr. To make matters more confusing, the original lineup occasionally plays dates as well thus, the original vs. funky distinction.
Robert Christgau called the Meters "a totally original band," and as usual he's right: the band's sound contributed in a big way to the development of funk and was an idiosyncratic voice within it. Fire on the Bayou is probably its most-appreciated album, but even at the height of its power, the group had a funny way of shamelessly accommodating itself to pop formulae without abandoning its uniqueness. This is the kind of outfit self-aware enough to give its disc's longest and least engaging track the self-deprecating title "Middle of the Road," and yet make the track whose style presages the smooth jazz radio format melodically and rhythmically sophisticated enough to maintain your basic attention, because the musicians know that's all they can ask for. Although Modeliste's and Nocentelli's contributions to the Meters were substantial enough to justify being wary of their substitutions in the Funky Meters' lineup, something in the ensemble's past behavior indicates they all might be on the same page, with the same doubts, and better or at least more honest performers for the experience.
BILL'S BIRTHDAY BASH With funky Meters featuring Cyril Neville, Marcia Ball, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and Bonnie Raitt with Hutch Hutchinson. Sat/10, 9 p.m., $50. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. (415) 421-TIXS, www.livenation.com
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