French Quarter Festival
Papa Grows Funk
April 19, 2004
BY JASON SONGE
Papa Grows Funk made me wanna scratch away during some rough sex or jump up and down, and up and down, and up and down. Their act was so well-refined that a palpable energy was created in the air around The French Quarter Fest's Hibernia Pavilion Sunday night. Probably energy from the band that the audience couldn't handle.
After only four years together, pianist/vocalist/bandleader John Gros has made Papa Grows Funk the tightest funk band in New Orleans. At this point, I guess we'll give the "best" title to the Funky Meters, but after only two albums, the band is on their way to redefining New Orleans funk for the city and outsiders.
Gros, the primary songwriter, created songs whose primary purpose was to hit me over the head with hook-laden, swamp-sucking nastiness. Gros learned well from George Porter after years in his band.
The band's first song had hard-hitting grooves. It was a wake-up call full of Gros' Hammond B-3 meanderings. The band rarely slowed things down. A highlight of the set was "Rat a Tang Tang," a song full of throwaway lyrics that produced a crowd sing-along with Gros. The lyrics could have been "bippitty bop boo down the longer shoe" and it wouldn't have mattered. This was fun, happy music. He was backed by funky Meters drummer Russell Batiste, saxophonist Jason Mingledorf, bassist Marc Pero and guitarist June Yamagishi.
Yamagishi was a virtuoso(i.e. Dave Easley) that I'm happy still lives in New Orleans. Yamagishi played with such speed and style that it melted my musical brain. Rocking the headband and the drum set was Batiste, who believes he's the best drummer in New Orleans. Definitely top 3.
One problem with the set was that the band needed more vocals over their instrumentals in order to keep them interesting. They took an unneeded detour into jam-band country a few times. Gros was a capable vocalist, but if the band could get a knock your socks off female or male singer, who knows where this band could go.
They play every Monday night at The Maple Leaf Bar. Enjoy yourselves.