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  • The Highlight of Bear Creek 2011: Lettuce 11/13/11

    2011 - 11.24

    Lettuce is like funk made with unlimited resources. Take the hardest-hitting drummer who plays the most bombastic fills, the top guitarist who solos with soulful yet jazz-infused quick fingers, a bassist who plays exceedingly fast and clean, an organ player who’s always holding down those high notes and banging on the clav with hands raised above his head, and a horn section of two shredding saxes with a trumpeter who could shatter glass with his high notes–that’s Lettuce. If Lettuce were a recipe, it would just say “EVERYTHING. And double of it.”

    Walking out of their show on Sunday night I said to my buddy Bill, “Honestly, if god himself made a funk album, I don’t think it could be any harder-hitting, or bigger, or nastier than Lettuce.” He erupted into laugher, thought about it for a few seconds and said, “Yeah, I think you might be right.”

    The performance itself on Sunday night was top notch.  Their Saturday set saw them coming out guns blazing, but after the first maybe 4 songs, I felt like the setlist delved into their B-catalog to fill the time.  Not the case on Sunday though.  They dropped a bevy of new tunes which were monumentally brazen in attitude and cleverly composed orchestrations for the large ensemble.  One particular highlight for me was their relentless version of Squadlive; a favorite tune of mine as I used to play in a band that covered it.

    If the band does miss one thing, it would be dynamics. True they do play some tunes that bring the energy way down low, but it’s almost like those sections are there purely to enhance the all-out full-tilt onslaught of sound when it hits again. They could use a couple numbers like “Happy Friends” by Greyboy Allstars or “Road to Fuji Rock” by the New Mastersounds. Or maybe they’re not even capable of a mid-level grooving-yet-relaxed type of jam? Nothing about Lettuce is really relaxed. For that reason I don’t think I’d ever call them my “favorite” band.

    And yet, their Sunday set was probably the highlight of the fest, simply because it was an extreme; they came out raging so hard it was not really possible to sit and passively take it in. You HAD to get up and dance, you HAD to be knocked over by their deluge of everything. Bassist Erick Coomes wore a tall wizard hat with stars and moons on it, along with a pair of those gigantic joke sunglasses. His clothes were both an both an artifact of the absurd carnival-esque ambiance of a music festival like this, and maybe a winking self-parody of the musical sworcery occurring onstage. There were a few sections where he and Eric Krasno doubled each other on some stupidly fast phrases that raised my eyebrows and dropped my jaw. It’s undeniably impressive to watch a finger-style bass (as opposed to slapping or picking) player like Coomes who can move with such speed and dexterity.

    It was a pleasure to watch Deitch in action on the drums as well. That guy is like some kind of prodigy. I really don’t understand how he kept up the schedule he did at Bear Creek either. Especially on Saturday where he performed at 2pm with Chapter 2, 8pm with Lettuce and then again at 3:45AM with Break Science (plus whatever sit-ins inbetween). Power naps, perhaps? You can tell he’s just one of those guys who has it naturally. A lot of musicians have to work hard and ‘woodshed’ to get to an impressive place. Seems like Deitch is the gifted type who just hears it and plays it. It’s entertaining to watch him when he gets the chance to take a drum solo–at first he seems relaxed and casual, but as he goes on you see this look of determination come over him, as he turns off the autopilot and starts figuring out what he wants to do with his own personal space.

    Listening to the Lettuce horns is also a treat, particularly the bombastic Rashawn Ross on trumpet. Dude’s got some serious skills when it comes to power in the upper register. I saw him years ago in Chicago and since then he’s lost a very significant amount of weight, like at least 50 pounds. Although he’s a much smaller guy now (I even wondered, is that HIM!) he has retained his powerful and cutting sound. When he solos, it’s essentially a slow build toward a climax of high notes, which does leave something to be desired in terms of clever phrases, although it certainly succeeds in getting the crowd fired up. When the horn section comes together on some tight phrases, Rashawn’s searing brass on top of the whole ensemble definitely makes the hairs on my arm stand up. In all the right ways!

    I do have one more video of these guys to share, which I captured on Sunday night. As a reminder, hit the 1080p option if your internet is fast, it makes a big difference.  Enjoy!

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