Lettuce Puts on a Funk Clinic at First Avenue

Photo: Lettuce

Last updated on April 10th, 2023 at 06:56 am

No matter what is happening in popular music at a given moment or what feels trendy in the music world, there will always be a place for funk and funk-infused acts.

From P-Funk to G-funk to everything before and after, funk music endures mainly because people still want and need to groove.

Not every band can pull it off, as evidenced by the litany of acts that aspire to be funky but don’t quite hit the mark. This makes the truly funky acts more essential, as they preserve the genre’s lineage with their music.

One modern band that delivers on this promise is Lettuce. Around for over 30 years with different lineups, the music they’ve made and continue to make feels as vital and funky as ever. In Friday Night’s show at First Avenue, Lettuce affirmed why they’re one of the best funk bands working today.

To take in a Lettuce show is to absorb more than a half-century of funk history. Depending on the song (or even a moment within a jam), there are explicit and subtle nods to several funk varieties. At any given point, you might recognize old-school New Orleans funk, some Herbie-esque fusion, or grooves that recall funky hip-hop of various eras.

Weaving through and integrating multiple styles into complex compositions and rangy improvisations is Lettuce’s trademark. And on this night, they were true to that form.

Though Lettuce has a jammy, improvisational, and even psychedelic bend, their live sets are remarkably tight. You can attribute this largely to the rhythm section of drummer Adam Deitch and bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes.

The rhythm section is essential in any funk band, but it is especially critical in an improvisational outfit like Lettuce. To say that Deitch and Coomes are locked in would be an understatement; watching them groove is like watching few others.

The way they lead and lay the foundations for everything else, even on the most complex arrangements, is unrivaled. Longtime guitarist Adam “Schmeens” Smirnoff is a top-notch rhythm player as well, adding to their arsenal of groove.

Of course, a band can have all the chops and pedigree in the world and still not connect with an audience the way Lettuce does. Their onstage spontaneity and subtle sonic evolution keep fans coming back and are vital to their success.

Though they aren’t trend chasers, Lettuce’s studio output consistently shows a willingness and eagerness to engage with the past, present, and future of the music. Each release builds organically on the last, achieving the rare feat of charting new territory while paradoxically retaining their sound, no matter how far off the proverbial path they tread.

That creative, improvisational spirit, combined with their elite chops and musicality, generates a live dynamic that few bands can approach or replicate. Though there were a few slower moments in Friday’s show, there were no true lulls, a testament to their elevated performances. This translated into an engaged audience that understood and appreciated the experience they witnessed and participated in.

Written by Aaron Williams


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