Diary Of A Mad Band: LETTUCE Completes West Coast Run In Lake Tahoe & San Francisco [B.Getz on L4LM]

Photo: DeitzOnBeatz Media 

originally published on Live For Live Music


Veteran psychedelic funk-hop merchants Lettuce just wrapped the West Coast leg of a U.S. tour supporting their 2022 album Unify, the band’s eighth full-length studio release and arguably its finest platter. Celebrating 30 years since first coalescing as a collective in early-’90s Boston, and two decades on from the famed tour that gave us Live in Tokyo, Lettuce is still mining new avenues of creative progression and elevating their craft.

Before the big finale, the western trek saw the band rock the Mission Ballroom for Denver Comes Alive on January 14th before uncorking a banger in Salt Lake City a few days later. SLC was so fulfilling for the fellas that a super-stoked Adam Deitch (drums) posted his own show review on social media the next morning. The following week, lucky fans at The Showbox in Seattle were treated to scorching sit-ins from a pair of superstars in saxophonist Skerik and guitarist Jimmy James.

On back-to-back two-fers in Lake Tahoe and San Francisco, Lettuce dug deep into its voluminous songbook; the sextet did not repeat a single tune while debuting both originals and covers. LETT tore into classics with renewed vigor, and introduced many fans to a bevy of Unify cuts. Four consecutive nights spent confidently purveying sonic and spiritual heights—and depths—unearthed by way of intergenerational, genre-defying setlists and patented, egalitarian type two adventuring,

On Wednesday, January 25th, after a treacherous, icy bus drive through the night, a nightmarish route winding down and around Oregon mountains with snow and black ice, Lettuce arrived at Crystal Bay Casino. The place sits one hundred yards from the California state line, on the Nevada side. With record snowfall this winter, the drifts were towering on roads and sidewalks, surrounds glistening in a winter wonderland.

Affectionately-dubbed “The CBC,” the venue is a trusty North Lake Tahoe live music haunt LETT has packed and rocked numerous times over the past decade-plus. The ballroom is smallish, a pretty basic one-floor layout, yet the space has good acoustics. Aside from the wafting cigarette smoke from the casino floor, it provides a serviceable—if unremarkable—space to experience this band.


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After a 45-minute opening set from Stones Throw recording artist Kiefer (whose trio provided dynamic direct support for the final four concerts on this run), the krewe of drummer Deitch, Ryan Zoidis (saxophone), Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff (guitar), Erick “Jesus” Coomes (bass), Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet), and Nigel Hall (keyboards/vocals) took the stage at CBC just after 9:00 P.M. Off the top, the squad slipped into a delectable debut, offering an instrumental groove based on Cameo’s “Keep It Hot”.

This measured, mid-tempo funk joint allowed the band to check levels and dial the vibe before dropping into a charged “By Any Shmeeans Necessary” (Rage, 2008), which featured ARP synth madness from Hall. Lettuce often reimagines and reignites numerous songs from the band’s back catalog, the compositions living, breathing organisms that mutate into new formations. This broiling “By Any Shmeeans Necessary” was the first of several to follow in this long-established modus operandi.

Other night one notables included a subaqueous “Purple Cabbage” (Elevate, 2019) somewhat early in the journey. The full-band Voltron jamming style was in full effect moving as one, referencing Black Sheep’s “The Choice is Yours” before returning to the song’s apex. Another debut in “Change the World”, a Unify track that packs passionate vocals and personal messaging from Nigel Hall, plus a soprano sax solo via Zoidis.


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The Bhagat-tinged “Moksha” (Resonate, 2020) was highlighted by soaring leads from Shmeeans, with quotes from Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun” and Miles Davis’s “Jean Pierre”.

After a brief run through “Tighten Up”, the boys uncorked a massive “Mr. Yancey” (Rage), a nascent sonic homage to the late, great J Dilla, which became the blueprint for a certain slice of the band’s unicorn sound. This evening’s unique reading referenced the producer’s “Body Movin’” before returning to the “Mr. Yancey” head, adulterated with a bit of a Quiet Storm twist.

Continuing on that tip was the third debut of the night, a saucy romp through Patrice Rushen’s 1982 hit “Forget Me Nots”, best known to younger generations as the structural basis for Will Smith’s “Men in Black” redux. Ms. Rushen is among Nigel’s favorite artists (she contributed to a song on his Spiritual album), and Hall spared no gusto when delivering this classic jam, powered by the steezy bump LETT provided beneath his crooning.

After the show, a few lucky fans who found their way to the hang were treated to an informal grand piano concert stretching into the wee hours. Beginning with a casual Zoidis/Shmeeans duet, then Adam Deitch tickling the ivories, capped by a lengthy, stunning run of jazz and classical courtesy of Kiefer, who wowed all in the vicinity with his virtuosic talents on solo piano.

Lettuce – “Change The World” – 1/25/23

[Video: FunkItBlog]

Thursday evening’s festivities began with Nigel Hall sitting in for the final song of Kiefer’s inspired opening set, a collaboration that would continue for the remainder of the weekend. For round two in Tahoe, Lettuce kicked things off with vibey hip-hop, beginning with an instrumental take on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Luck of Lucien” (Live in Tokyo), segueing into the windmilling “Krewe” (Elevate, 2019), before settling into an alternately loose yet focused affair.

Highlights from CBC’s second night included positively filthy runs through “Trapezoid” (Elevate) and “House of LETT (Resonate). The latter joint was downright revolutionized on the Fall 2022 European tour and reborn to the deep house gods here in the States soon thereafter. Captained by the bombastic low-end sorcery of Jesus Coomes, this particular “House” wielded a searing bassline-untz jam in the midsection before a brief yet slick detour into the ultra-rare Fly outtake “Pep n’ Step” (Lost in Flight, 2015).

Nigel reached back into his bottomless bag of swag for some DC Go-Go, unleashing “Makin’ My Way Back Home” (Rage, 2008), complete with nods to The Sugarhill Gang and Slick Rick, The team saw fit to segue through Chuck Brown’s version of Sly Stone’s “Family Affair”, resulting in an ecstatic singalong that filled the room. The entire segment was sky-high energy with more bounce to the ounce, whipping the packed and heavily imbibed CBC dance floor into a funk frenzy. Another seldom-performed number, “Ghosts of Jupiter”, arrived in an afrobeat style.

Conceived by Shmeeans and among Unify’s finest creations, the late-set, blissed-out “Shine” leveled things up with Native Tongues vibes. Bloom’s shimmering clean trumpet solo took us on a journey and stunned everyone in the spot, an abundance of oh faces with jaws agape in every direction. Thursday’s encore offered something of a new spin on “Sam Huff’s Flyin’ Ragin’ Machine” (Rage), channeling some JB’s before sending the throbbing throngs of Tahoe funkateers spilling into the frigid night.


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It’s about a four-hour drive from Crystal Bay Casino to The Fillmore in San Francisco, and LETT was live on arrival Friday night, January 27th, for the opening of a two-night engagement at the iconic room. As he so often does, Nigel Hall greeted the audience with his version of a favorite quote from Aretha Franklin that asks to borrow souls for the purposes of spiritual enhancement.

Lettuce launched into the third night of the NorCal run with a new addition to the songbook: “Grewt Up” is a groovy, midtempo Coomes original from the Elevate/Resonate cutting room floor. This was only the second time the band performed this track, the debut a few shows earlier in the tour.

Lettuce – “Grewt Up” – 1/27/23

[Video: HuyHKM]

A strong version of the snappy “Larimar” (Resonate) was accompanied by the scent of DMT wafting through the crowd, which was a first for me. I can’t say I necessarily understand, but I can certainly attest to the fact that funk is beneficial to the pineal gland. Meanwhile, Eric “Benny” Bloom took “Larimar” by the collar and set off for the cosmos yet again.

Lettuce – “Larimar” (Trumpet Solo) – 1/27/23

[Video: HuyHKM]

The band landed the vessel, swiftly kicking into Jimmy Castor’s B-Boy anthem “It’s Just Begun”. More breakdance vibes continued with Unify crown jewel “Vamanos”, which contained a cacophonous, ethereal type two jam in the middle, plus another improv section with a resolution reminiscent of an Aaliyah/Timbaland concoction.

Lettuce – “It’s Just Begun” (The Jimmy Castor Bunch) – 1/27/23

[Video: HuyHKM]

The indoor heat wave continued with Nigel leading a sizzling run through Cold Blood’s “Ready to Live” (Elevate), a tacit nod to Bay Area funk drummer Gaylord Birch, the legend among Deitch’s biggest influences. “Silence is Golden” (Resonate) continues to deliver majestic renditions, always anchored by Zoidis’s stirring tenor solo. This “Silence” was punctuated by an outro jam that seamlessly morphed into 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg’s once-ubiquitous “P.I.M.P.”.

Smirnoff unveiled an iridescent, slow’d n’ throw’d rework of the “Phyllis” (Crush) intro before the full band dove feet first into its trademark tune. With Zoidis’s Korg-synth raining from The Fillmore’s famed chandeliers, “Phyllis” deftly kicked a brand new flavor, a boisterous groove culled from Craig Mack’s mid-’90s Bad Boy anthem “Flava In Ya Ear”.

After Nigel dedicated the song to his dear friend—East Bay vocalist Viveca Hawkins—“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (Elevate) once again got the sensual, Soulquarians remix treatment. “Hawk’s Claw”, a dusty, psychedelic banger midway through Unify, made for an anthemic, euphoric set closer, complete with boom-bap head nods, screwfaced mean-mugs, triumphant horn swells, and those famously Deitch-branded beats that simply refuse to quit.

A select few late-night ragers were privileged to attend Ms. Hawkins’ post-show bday bash, with Nigel Hall deejaying for three-plus hours deep into the night. Hall was quite nice with his, mixing hip-hop, soul, R&B, gospel, funk, and his own searing demos and unreleased music, a selection that satiated the guest of honor, fellow band members, and some really lucky cats who were extremely fortunate to tag along with the cool kids.


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The last night of LETT’s West Coast leg of the Unify tour, the boys were touched, for Saturday would prove to be by far and away the strongest of the final four. Kiefer’s supporting set welcomed Hall back for the majority of the performance, Nigel running around on his huge keyboard rig painting atop the Kiefer trio’s jazzy-fusion and instrumental hip-hop flavors. Eric “Benny” Bloom would join in on “Why Not?” to conclude the set as a quintet.

For one more sold-out Saturday night, it was crystal clear from jumpstreet that no half-steppin’ would be tolerated. There was just a certain verve to the guys, apparent immediately as “The Force” (Crush, 2015) was revealed in a somewhat inverted fashion. The song achieved proper liftoff after a patient, swelling intro; the “Zoid Void” jam often found within “The Force” was shifted to the front end.


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From a roaring “The Force” into an instrumental stomp through Prince’s “Musicology”. Assertive, hard-as-nails funk on the one with some Paisley Park purple panache. From there, the “Meters of the New School” traveled toward the Crescent City, as “Get Greazy” (Crush) nodded to the godfathers of the Big Easy.

On the shortlist from the entire run, Saturday’s titanic unleashing of the title track to 2016’s Mt. Crushmore EP will go down among the all-time versions. The bombastic banger was demonstratively detonated, complete with an ethereal, spooky jam that leaned into its psychedelic roots. “Mt. Crushmore” gave way to a thunderous gallop through Redman’s “Tiger Style Crane”, a Funk Doc deep cut that Deitch produced with former Lettuce guitarist Eric Krasno many moons ago. “Tiger Style Crane” got really, really busy, and the dancefloor responded in kind, swiftly reaching turnt status.

Lettuce – “Mt. Crushmore” > “Tiger Style Crane” (Redman) > “Mt. Crushmore”, “Remember The Children” (Earth, Wind & Fire), “Madison Square” – 1/28/23

[Video: FunkItBlog]

“Squadlive” (Rage) saw Ryan Zoidis show everyone in the joint that he only needs ONE note to really funk up the spot proper. “Squadlive” eventually unspooled into madness as Nigel took off on an electrifying, borderline-unhinged gospel rave-up that filled the Fillmore with the Spirit and summoned the Holy Ghosts of Haight Ashbury. They traversed from James Brown‘s “It’s A New Day” into other JB-isms, then Coomes took the ever-rare slap-bass solo before Nigel commandeered the vehicle and the whole band manifested several minutes of Maze’s “Back in Stride”.


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Crush nugget “The New Reel” was another neck-snapper, this a razor-sharp rendition extrapolated into a psychedelic excursion, before again flirting with some Quiet Storm vibes. Nigel then introduced Kiefer, who hopped on electric piano and added harmonic layers to “Breakout” (Live in Tokyo), a magnificent reading that built to a celestial crescendo, then bulldozed into the ten-ton sledgehammers of “Relax” (Rage). Hall declared that doctor’s orders require listening to one Earth, Wind, & Fire song every day, and with that, the band leapt into their version of “Remember the Children” (Resonate), as Zoidis again reached for the soprano, much to the delight of the now-awestruck audience.


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Benny Bloom thanked the crowd and saluted the Lettuce crew, before the squadron dialed up a massive – if truncated – stomp through their magnum opus, “Madison Square” (Fly). Eschewing any detours into the dub tombs as has been the norm in recent years, the band raced into an afrobeat segment that found Zoidis again charming pythons with his soprano saxophone. Lettuce brought the song to a rapid climax and re-entry, then swiftly left the stage to a particularly loud roar.


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The mighty LETT returned to hoots and hollers to deliver an elusive double encore. Beginning with a JB’s-esque tweak on “Do It Like You Do” (Fly), Shmeeans channeled both Catfish Collins and Spanky Chalmers with extra helpings of geetar stank. LETT did the damn thang, and then made a hard left into a freewheeling joyride through James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”. This thrilling pairing could have been enough, but the boys weren’t quite done just yet with this boisterous Bay Area bonanza.

A feverish frolic through Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” (Rage) offered one last chance for the people to dance themselves into a trance. As the band stirred it up one mo’ gin, everybody left the stage sans Hall (who would stick around a couple more days to record with Otis McDonald at the legendary Hyde Street Studios). Nigel cleared the lane, settling in for an absolutely gripping “Be A Lion” (The Wiz) that tugged at every last heartstring in The Fillmore, maybe none more than his own bandmates’, who stood (or in Shmeeans case, laid down) to take in the magic just like the rest of us—an epically emotional way to close out the evening, the NorCal run, and the West Coast leg of the Unify tour.

Three decades in the game and Lettuce is still reaching forward, climbing higher, working harder. Four shows in four nights, with zero repeats—on Saturday at The Fillmore, Lettuce did not touch an original song from later than 2016. This was top-shelf Lettucefunk regardless of the year or lineup. An old-school vibe, old-school show, in an old-school room, and those of us who can say we were present, we are a very lucky bunch.

Words: B.Getz

Lettuce – Crystal Bay Casino – Crystal Bay, NV – 1/25/23

Lettuce – The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – 1/28/23



Lettuce | Crystal Bay Casino | Crystal Bay, NV | 1/25/23

Set: By Any Schmeeans Necessary (Keep It Hot by Cameo intro)*, Pocket Change, Purple Cabbage (tease of a Black Sheep song), Change the World*, Moksha (Third Stone From The Sun & & Jean Pierre teases), Tighten Up (Archie Bell & the Drells), Mr. Yancey > Body Movin’ (J Dilla) > Mr. Yancey, The Lock, Forget Me Nots (Patrice Rushen)*, Royal Highness

Encore: Giant Steps (John Coltrane cover) (Deitch solo on keys, short teaser), Sounds Like a Party

*Live debut

Setlist: Lettuce | Crystal Bay Casino | Crystal Bay, NV | 1/26/23

Set: Luck of Lucien > Krewe, RVA Dance, Trapezoid > House of Lett, Pep ‘n Step, Makin’ My Way Back Home > It’s a Family Affair (Sly & the Family Stone), Ghost of Jupiter, Last Suppit, Shine, Keep That Funk Alive

Encore: Sam Huff’s Flying Ragin’ Machine

Setlist: Lettuce | The Fillmore | San Francisco, CA | 1/27/23

Set: Grewt Up > Larimar, It’s Just Begun (The Jimmy Castor Bunch), Vámonos, Ready to Live, Silence Is Golden (inc. P.I.M.P. by 50 Cent), Mr Dynamite > Blast Off (inc. Slippin’ Into Darkness by War tease), Phyllis (inc. Flava In Ya Ear by Craig Mack >) Everybody Wants to Rule the World  (Tears for Fears) (inc. Soulquarians remix), Lettsanity, Hawk’s Claw

Encore: Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

Setlist: Lettuce | The Fillmore | San Francisco, CA | 1/28/23

Set: The Force (inc. Zoid Void intro), Musicology (Prince) > Get Greasy, Chief, Mt. Crushmore > Tiger Crane Style (Redman) > Mt Crushmore, Squadlive (inc. It’s A New Day by James Brown, Back In Stride by Maze & others JB interpolations), The New Reel
Remember the Children (Earth, Wind & Fire), Break Out (with Kiefer on keys) > Relax, Madison Square

Encore: Do It Like You Do > Funky Drummer (James Brown) > Do It Like You Do, Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield) > Be a Lion (Charlie Smalls) > Move On Up