Lettuce channels D.C. tradition at 9:30 Club
Oct 01, 2013 11:01AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
The first time Nigel Hall heard the music of Lettuce, he was in his mother’s house, listening to a college radio station. A native of Washington, D.C. and now a sometimes member of the funk/soul collective, Hall was the finest and most striking element of the group’s energetic performance Friday [September 20th] at D.C.’s 9:30 Club. For Hall, who performs with his own Nigel Hall Band on keyboards and vocals and often leads Lettuce for portions of their shows as a charismatic front-man, playing with Lettuce in his hometown was a great source of pride. “To be able to go back home and play with them is an accomplishment,” he said.
With a semi-rotating cast, Lettuce’s Friday lineup found Hall handling all keyboard duties, with regular keyboardist Neal Evans absent. And handle them Hall did—whether lacing upbeat funk numbers with screaming B3 organ or making his Korg synth sing out commanding leads, Hall’s energy and knack for drawing the best from other musicians became the night’s most obvious theme.
Also absent from Lettuce’s lineup was guitarist Eric Krasno, who the band would replace for a spell with the evening’s opening bandleader John Scofield. Scofield’s jazzy, meandering leads were an interesting match for Lettuce’s powerful rhythm section and loud horns, sharing a certain stylistic element with Krasno’s normal presence, albeit with a noticeably different improvisational voice.
Hall’s hometown buzz was hardly the band’s only connection to the D.C. area. Saxophonist James Casey, another sometimes-member of the band, also grew up in the D.M.V. “I try to get together with at least one person when I come back home on tour,” Casey said about reuniting with childhood friends and family during hometown gigs.
Friday’s set got off to a furious pace with the set’s opening number, “Lettsanity,” a tune off of 2012 release Fly filled with dizzying horns, a quick groove, and a seething sax solo. Another Fly cut, “Madison Square,” would provide the set’s undeniable peak, with the song’s driving, climatic build inducing the club’s packed but not quite sold out crowd to throw their hands in the air and scream.
For the show’s encore, the band chose to pay homage to D.C.’s musical history, incorporating heavy go-go influence by featuring several band-members on auxiliary percussion, including Casey. After Hall brought the house down on vocals with “Do it Like You Do,” a number he sang with the band on its studio cut, it was time for “Making My Way Back Home,” a D.C. tribute number which the band seamlessly transitioned into D.C. go-go legend and local icon Chuck Brown’s ubiquitous 1979 hit “Bustin’ Loose.”
For Hall, honoring Brown’s memory is a must. “Chuck Brown to D.C. is George Duke to me,” he said, comparing the late singer and guitarist to another recently departed legend and personal influence.
“His first record was ‘the record’,” Hall said of Brown. “I mean, Chuck Brown is the only reason any musician in D.C. can make it out of there one day.”
Hall, along with the rest of Lettuce, may have done more to appropriately honor Brown’s memory than any other D.C. show in recent memory, save for the outright tribute events following Brown’s May 2012 death. And, though Lettuce’s tour would move on Saturday night and finish up in Pittsburgh, the Friday performance in D.C. was more than just another stop on the tour—for Hall and Casey, it meant playing from the heart as a tribute to their city of origin and honoring one of its most revered musical elders.