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.