by Andy J. Gordon

The all-star jam band Lettuce made their annual pilgrimage to New Orleans this year during Jazz Fest in late April/early May. It is a sort of migration, where great musicians from all over gather in the Crescent City to share their gifts with fans from around the world, who make the trip as well. Lettuce did two special shows in New Orleans. One on April 30, as the headliners with special guest John Scofield for the first day of the two-day outdoor event called Daze Between Fest. The other show on May 3 was at The Joy Theater where they held their annual Rage! Fest, which was a night of pure Lettuce magic.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was celebrating their 54th year during this time. The outdoor, daytime event at the Fairgrounds racetrack was held over two weekends and featured hundreds of bands playing on multiple stages. However, it is not an ideal venue for the distinctive, psychedelic and trippy shows that Lettuce is known for. Their lighting effects and video projections, synchronized with their funk, jazz, fusion and rock music are better suited for nighttime and indoor venues. The special Daze Between set at the Faubourg Brewery in East New Orleans was held after dark and included the full Lettuce experience plus the bonus of a nearly full set sit in by guitar icon John Scofield.

Check out the full gallery of photos from this night by Andy J. Gordon

Lettuce is an all-star ensemble and has a long history with Scofield. Their deeply shared love for funk music makes for an intriguing combination. The prolific guitarist appeared as a special guest on the band’s 2002 debut album Outta Here (Velour Recordings). Drummer Adam Deitch spent several years working with Scofield where he provided the powerful grooves on his Verve albums Überjam and Up All Night. Keyboardist Nigel Hall has played with Soulive and is more recently a key member of John Cleary’s band when he is not busy with Lettuce. Saxophonist Ryan Zoidis has also spent time with Soulive. Trumpeter Eric Bloom has become deeply engrained in the New Orleans music scene, recording with Jon Cleary and Aaron Neville. Guitarist Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff has worked with an array of artists, including Lady Gaga and Robert Randolph. Bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes has toured with Britney Spears and The Game.

Their Daze Between set opened with a 1970s funk track by The Jimmy Castor Bunch called “It’s Just Begun.” The stage was filled with smoke, muted lighting and strobe effects as Bloom and Zoidis blasted their horns, while Hall belted out the lyrics. Hall’s vocals are deeply soulful and a rare treat since most Lettuce sets emphasize instrumentals. Two instrumental tracks from 2022’s Unify, “The Lock” and “Vamanos,” gave the guys a chance to stretch out. Shmeeans played unique riffs and the rhythmic beats from Coomes and Deitch had the house thumping. Hall sounded like a classic soul singer during “Get It Together” which also featured his stylistic organ playing.

Scofield came out to loud applause and the band launched into his 1990 song “Pick Hits” which Bloom quipped is “a classic.” They followed that with another Scofield track from 2002 called “Jungle Fiction.” Sco played complex solos and traded licks with Shmeeans, Bloom and Zoidis. Deitch performed a thunderous and rapid-fire solo before each of the band members played solos over his beats. Ghost Note drummer Robert “Sput” Searight and all-star sax player Cochemea Gatelum sat in during a sequence that included “The Flu>Free” and “Jean Pierre.”

Once Sput and Cheme departed, the band went back to the Scofield catalog for “Filibuster,” a heavy jazz fusion tune that featured more of Scofield’s finely nuanced solos plus extended solos and overlays from Bloom and Zoidis. Hall got emotional while singing “Everything Gonna Be Alright,” a song written by Dumpstaphunk’s Nick Daniels III. The bassist recorded the song with Lettuce for their Unify album and had just passed away due to complications from cancer a few days before this show. They wrapped up the sensational set with Kool and The Gang’s “Ladies’ Night.”

A few days later, Lettuce held their annual Rage! Fest at The Joy Theater. The packed house, just a few blocks from The French Quarter, celebrated like it was Mardi Gras. The GA floor was very tight, but people still managed to dance as the band filled the hall with funky, trippy beats. Once again, the light show matched the mood and three projectors sent flowing, psychedelic images through the building.

They opened with Hall singing and Bloom, Zoidis and Deitch harmonizing on a version of the James Brown jam “Make It Funky” before segueing into their 2015 instrumental “Get Greasy.” Another horn heavy instrumental “Lettsanity” gave Bloom and Zoidis a chance to show off their synchronized precision.

Coomes got booties shaking with a catchy bass line during “Bowler” that featured more horn magic. That song transitioned into a free-wheeling version of The Blackbyrd’s 1975 R&B, jazz/funk fusion deep track “Rock Creek Park.” Hall’s lead vocals were again supported by nice harmonizing. They finished the opening set with a cover of Earth Wind & Fire’s “Yearnin’ Learnin’.”

The second set began with a Shmeeans showcase on “By Any Shmeeans Necessary.” The horns played the funky repetitive riff while the guitarist dove in with a talk box segment and a screaming solo. Hall followed with a passionately, soulful take and long organ solo on Keni Burke’s “Rising To The Top.”  The band did a slow burning intro before rolling into a rousing version of “Madison Square.” That segued into a slowed down, truncated version of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” with everyone singing the chorus. Zoidis did a super, funky solo before the band switched back to the conclusion of “Madison Square.”

Check out the full gallery of photos from this night by Andy J. Gordon

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Hall sang Unify’s “Change The World” with more fine harmonizing from the band. “JBs Squadlive” got everyone dancing and had the authentic vibe of James Brown’s backing band. Nigel did a formidable JB impression by shouting out, “can you hit me” with the band responding in perfectly synchronized sequences. The set ended with a jam heavy “Phyllis” that included trippy guitar riffs, more synchronized horns and a long improvisational sequence culminating with a Deitch solo, before going back to the catchy melody. The band did the Nick Daniels III song “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” for their encore. This time, Hall could not get through the first verse – he began sobbing and the band finished the song as an instrumental. Eventually Hall collected himself and did the band introductions before finishing the song and show.

The club and special shows that take place all over New Orleans during Jazz Fest are a magical time in the jam scene. Lettuce’s annual pilgrimage is a big part of what makes it so memorable. Their 2024 shows at Daze Between and The Joy Theater captured their unique sound and left many fans desperate to see them again soon. The band has several festival and stand-alone dates including shows with Ziggy Marley throughout 2024. For details go to Lettuce tour.

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