Who else has happy memories of entering the high school music room to a spontaneous outbreak of the theme to Hawaii Five-O, delivered by a few of the more precocious fellas in the band, playing for the sheer joy of it? I imagine that the members of Lettuce are just these kinds of guys— playful maestros bored with the vacuity of commercial pop, seeking refuge in funky improvisations and tributes to the best of the past while at the same time pioneering into new sonic territory.
The Boston-based Lettuce met over twenty years ago as teenagers at a Berklee College of Music summer program (no surprise when we remember how many other great innovators Berklee’s produced) and bonded over a mutual love of Earth, Wind & Fire as well as the film and TV theme music of the1970s.
After returning to Berklee as undergrads, they formed a band, played locally, did some touring, and in 2002 recorded their studio debut Outta Here. Members Adam Deitch (drums), Adam Smirnoff and Eric Krasno (guitars), Erick “Jesus” Coomes (bass), Neal Evans (keyboards), Nigel Hall (keyboards and vocals), Ryan Zoidis (sax), and Eric Bloom (trumpet) are all joined on one track by the amazing vocalist Alecia Chakour, who often collaborates with the group when she's not singing backup for the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
The EP Mt. Crushmore comes after the group's fourth studio album, Crush. A 22-minute sonic thrill ride, Mt. Crushmore is a smorgasbord of space sounds, horn jabs, electronic experiments, dub, and many other musical elements, all laid out on a hard funk base.
The title track alone would be the perfect soundtrack to a danceable fantasy of world domination, like a call to arms from a psychedelic unholy army of the night, exhorted by an operatic spider women from another planet. It’ll remind you of James Brown, the film scores of martial arts movies, blacksploitation films, and even skin flicks sans sleaze (although at times it does make your naughty parts go all tingly).
There's a powerful intensity to the joy these musicians express when playing together, shown in the plethora of musical ideas they keep bouncing off each other and the rapid, exuberant way they respond. A great example of this is “116th St.,” a series of musical calls and responses, with the guitar playing variations on a riff and letting the others answer it again and again before giving room to a long, soaring, bluesy sax solo.
...although at times it does make your naughty parts go all tingly
There are whiffs of psychedelia in ‘“Lude Pt. 5,” ‘“Lude Part 6,” and especially “Ransome,” which starts out sounding like a walk on the trippy side but slides into some fast-paced hard funk with lots of fabulous horn jabs before the paisley elements return.
“The Love You Left Behind” is an ecstatic cover of Syl Johnson's 1971 hit. Just including this little-known gem is pure genius, but what they do with it is divine. Vocals and arrangement are surprisingly close to the original version, but the band's rendition is even more intense, and this mighty-souled singer delivers the lyrics like she means every word.
Feel the tingles yourself by picking up a ticket for any of the shows on Lettuce’s tour this winter, including among other cities, New York, Washington DC, Nashville, New Orleans, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
8,000 out of 10,000 Rawckus Kung Fu Throwing Stars