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Music Review: Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats – Meet The Meatbats

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On their 1978 LP One Nation Under A Groove, Funkadelic asked the musical question “Who Says A Funk Band Can’t Play Rock?” They answered the question pretty convincingly there, and it never came up again. In 2009, Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats have turned the tables, as a rock band who can play funk. They are the Average White Band of our era, except there is nothing average about them.

Chad Smith’s day job is drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so I was expecting something along those lines from the Meatbats. I was wrong. Meet The Meatbats is far more adventurous than anything the Peppers have ever recorded. It is also one of the best instrumental albums to be released this year.

In addition to Smith, the band includes Kevin Chown (bass), Ed Roth (keyboards), and Jeff Kollman (guitar). The funk groove is certainly held steady by the rhythm section, who both hail from Detroit incidentally. But it is the Seventies-era sounds of Roth’s various keyboards, and Kollman’s amazing guitar work that really puts the Meatbats over the top.

Take the first track, “Need Strange.” Smith’s bombastic drums open the song followed by some great Billy Preston inspired keyboards. Kollman’s guitar almost sounds as if it is channeling Blow By Blow era Jeff Beck, and Smith even takes a solo. Everything that is great about the Meatbats is present in this song.

Well, maybe not everything. “The Battle For Ventura Blvd,” and “Tops Off” nod in the general direction of the great Steely Dan at times. “Lola” is Kollman at his peak. Strapping on his acoustic guitar for a change, Kollman plays with the virtuosity of a Frank Zappa or Pat Metheny. Smith’s drum solo (played with his hands) is incredible also.

On the original US release, “Into The Floyd” closed Meet The Meatbats out. Like all of their songs, the title just seems to be random. I hear nothing that reminds me of Pink Floyd on this track. It is a great one to end a record with though. There is almost a Robin Trower slow-blues feel to it. Then Roth comes in with a piano solo that plays like something jazz legend Bill Evans might have laid down.

The UK release of Meet The Meatbats comes with the same cover art and tracks, plus one. The live “Status Spectrum” is a nice taste of what these guys are like live. The Meatbats hold a solid Seventies-ish groove, and it seems as if various faves just show up to peel off the odd riff. I hear snatches of Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jan Hammer, Donald Fagen, the list goes on and on.

But the one influence they decide to overtly pay tribute to is Weather Report. By quoting the main riff of the classic “Birdland,” Chad Smith’s Bombastic Meatbats make it crystal clear where they are coming from. Classic, funkified fusion is not at all what I expected from a Chili Pepper and his friends.

Meet The Meatbats is one of the most pleasant musical surprises I have had this year.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Yea… If you like this stuff I think you may dig the fusion resurgence that has been happening for the past 5-10 years.

    Here’s some killer bands:
    Michael Manring – Thonk(1994) -yup, I know it’s over 10 years old but it was way ahead of its time. Plus, Manring is a Bass GOD!!
    Alkotrio – Baranina(2008)
    Oz Noy – HA! (2005)
    Cosmosquad – Acid Test(2007)
    Altered – Angular(2008)- one of my favs
    Attention Deficit – The Idiot King(2001)-Michael Manring again…
    Spaced Out – Evolution(2008)
    Fat Time – Fox Farm Fusion(2007)
    Fragile – Phantom(?) – Their discography is killer for a Japanese fusion band and worth the investment.
    Thonk – Total Non Sense(2001) – Yes, a band NOT the album – No Manring in this group.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    *Oops* I can’t believe I forgot Akira Jimbo

    (Yes…he’s playing all the parts…

  • Greg Barbrick

    Brian,

    I definitely need to check out some of that stuff, especially Jeff Kollman’s Cosmosquad. Thanks!

  • Paul Roy

    Chad’s done some great funk-rock stuff with Glenn Hughes over the last decade too. This sounds worth checking out

  • Greg Barbrick

    Paul – I need to check out the Glenn Hughes stuff I guess. It’s where the Meatbats kind of first got together I understand, but I was thinking it was something different than funk-rock. Thanks

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Chili Peppers, Chickenfoot, and now this. Chad’s a busy guy…

    -Glen

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    he’s the hardest working man in show business. will be checking it out

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    also along the lines of rockers who can funk:
    Fishbone!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    @ Mark,

    The Reality of My Surroundings was freakin killer (and their best,imo). Let’s not forget about Infectious Grooves (“Sarsippius’ Ark” kills) or even the band Snot but I think Greg’s thoughts, with this review, on Funk were leaning more towards Fusion because The Meatbats are instrumental as well and actually incorporate more than funk.

  • Greg Barbrick

    Hey Guppusmaximus – what a great handle!

    Yes, I was totally digging the way the Meatbats use old school fusion in the record. That’s not to say I don’t dig Infectious Grooves or Fishbone or even (remember these guys) Psychefunkapus. It all rocks in a most “infectious” way, and thanks for the comments. – G

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Thanks…Most people ’round these parts call me Guppy.

    For sure, I never doubted that you dig the Funk Rock. I just agree that the instrumental funktified fusion can be better. You have ample time to focus on the groove instead of the lyrics because,for me, it’s all about the jams.

    So far,my only complaint about The Meatbats is that they leave a lot of holes, sonically. They need a beefier bassist and they should let Jeff Kollman loose. Unfortunately, this release kind of let me down like Chickenfoot. They have the personnel – Now they should just let it rip and forget about the album sales!

  • Slick Rick

    Man. Infectious Grooves is 1 of my all time faves. “these freaks are here to paarTAAAY!” If Meatbats are anything like that or like Mr. Bungle, then sign me up! Well, Mr. Bungle is a bit off kilter for the uninitiated I admit. Nonetheless, It’s all about shakin’ your groove thang however you see fit.

  • http://www.droptheleash.co.uk/ Drop The Leash

    Come on boys. Don’t you find the Meattwats a tad contrived? And what about the name. Simply awful.

  • Chris

    To Brian aka Guppusmaximus: do you play guitar? Because I’m listening to them right now, the second album admittedly, and I see nothing about them where the guitar sounds restrained. That seems a quintessential guitar player thing to say. As a multi-instrumentalist, I find that there is plenty of balance between the instruments. I wouldn’t want them to be a 70’s style guitar centric band. There are some songs where the guitar is more rhythmic, and others where the guitar part has a very prominent, “let loose” part. I might be inclined to agree with you slightly that their bass player is the weakest member, but that’s mostly just what I notice from bass breaks. And it’s trivial. Every group has a weakest member. Chown is still a very impressive bass player. Sonically, I disagree entirely. I have some awesome Klipsch PC speakers and the low end feel of the music is pretty great. You have to understand, with a keyboard player, you don’t want the bass to be too busy. Also, I can’t compare them to Chickenfoot at all. Chickenfoot is instrumentally FAR inferior.