In what may go down as the funkiest show Red Rocks Amphitheatre sees all year, Lettuce and friends descended on the historic venue Saturday night for an evening aptly dubbed “Rage Rocks.” The supergroup headliners brought along quite a cast: opening sets from Brooklyn’s Turkuaz and the Russ Liquid Test as well as a barrage of sit-ins that included Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan, George Porter Jr., and jazz great John Scofield.
The Russ Liquid Test got the evening crowd hyped early with a set of bass-heavy funk production. The trio was anchored by producer and brass specialist Russell Scott, who enlisted drummer Deven Trusclair and guitarist Andrew Block to bring his vision to life. The result was a refreshing, at times aggressive sound that blended gritty funk with booming EDM drops.
Next was Turkuaz, the first of two 10-piece funk outfits to take the stage. The band has taken the jam scene by storm in recent years with their high-energy, color-coordinated attack, and the big stage inspired them to a new level of tightness. The usual suspects were joined by percussionist Nate Werth of Snarky Puppy fame, who together with drummer Michelangelo Carubba kept the set cooking and ended almost every cut with a syncopated bang.
The setlist was heavy on material from their latest release Digitonium, a throwback sound that pays homage to theatrical funk greats like the Talking Heads. Frontman guitarist Dave Brandwein holds the band together, but it was baritone sax player Josh Schwartz’ voice and beatboxing as well as the synchronized dance moves of singers Shira Elias and Sammi Garett that captured your attention.
At long last it was time for Lettuce. Making their debut at the top of a Red Rocks bill, the veteran ensemble prepared one of the most star-studded and versatile performances in recent memory. No matter what your flavor, you were sure to get a taste during two jam-packed sets.
Backed by the powerful chops of the Shady Horns (Eric Bloom- trumpet, Ryan Zoidis- saxophone) and the swagger and pocket of Erick “Jesus” Coomes on bass stage center, Lettuce came out firing with progressive originals like “Blast Off” and “Bowler” before diving into guest appearances. First up was 20-year-old guitar prodigy Marcus King, whose soulful slide brought a Southern rock edge to the night as he crooned “Love Is Too Strong.”
Next was John Scofield, who joined guitarists Eric Krasno and Adam Smirnoff for tasteful takes of “Back In Effect” and “The Flu.” The jazz great was low in the mix initially, but once the band dialed things back during solo sections Scofield’s instantly recognizable tone shined. Soon after keyboardist Nigel Hall took over frontman duties, grabbing a mic and leading the band James Brown style through the set-ending sing-a-long “Do It Like You Do.”
Then it was time for hip-hop. J Rocc of the Beat Junkies played a brief tweener set of old-school classics before Lettuce returned to the stage in ominous dark hooded robes. The crowd fell silent as a figure made his way to the front of the stage, then erupted as it was unveiled to be Ghostface Killah. The rapper led the band through a medley of Wu-Tang bangers, including “C.R.E.A.M” and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”
Shifting gears yet again, New Orleans legends Cyrill Neville and bassist George Porter Jr. joined the band, sparking a switch to a rag-tag groove and bass battle between Porter Jr. and Coomes. Though Lettuce’s sound has evolved much from the straight-ahead ditties of the Meters, the respect and admiration the band held for their funk elders was quite evident.
Falling back into their core lineup, the highlight of night came on an extended “Phyllis” that saw the band open up into their deepest exploration yet. Drummer Adam Deitch, a tour-de-force the whole night, held together a psychedelic jam that spiraled into space while the lighting director’s movers projected entangling spirals directly onto the rock behind the stage.
Bringing things back down to earth, Nigel Hall took the mic yet again and fired up the crowd for an encore of the hit “Sounds Like a Party (To Me).” Saturday night on the rocks, it sure did.
Check out more photos from the show.