Review: Zigaboo's Modeliste Funk Revue in Austin
A white DW drum set announced Zigaboo Modeliste’s presence before he even sat down to play.
It was a Saturday night at Antone’s Nightclub in downtown Austin and Zigaboo’s openers, The Breed Brass Band, were on stage. Their drummer stood in the back with a snare drum attached to his neck, a crash cymbal to his right, and a bandmate playing the standup bass drum to his left. A spotlight shined, but not over them. It remained on that white DW drum set.
The set's emphasis even during the opening set suggested a clear purpose to the evening. This was a night to celebrate Zigaboo Modeliste, the legendary drummer of the genre-defining funk band, The Meters. James Brown may have been funk’s president, but Zigaboo was funk drumming’s architect. Even if you’re unfamiliar with The Meters, you’ve probably heard Zigaboo’s drum grooves. He’s been sampled by the likes of a Tribe Called Quest, NWA, and Public Enemy. His avant-garde, off-beat lick on “Cissy Strut” is considered one of the most influential drum patterns ever. It cemented Zigaboo’s new style of drumming, second line syncopated funk, as the backbone of funk music.
Zigaboo mastered the technique growing up in New Orleans. Second line was a traditional style of snare drumming that musicians played in funeral parades in the city. Zigaboo added flavor by adding syncopation; the use of multiple rhythms that are offbeat on their own, but form a groove when combined.
Zigaboo brought this style to The Meters before they disbanded in the late 70s. From Betty Harris to Paul McCartney, Zigaboo would go on to drum for countless iconic artists. Tonight he would be playing with the funk collective he formed in the late 90s, Zigaboo’s Funk Revue.
While much of the older crowd on hand grew up with funk, as a late 90s baby, I grew up with hip-hop. Throughout the show, I couldn't help but make connections between what I was seeing and hearing with what I grew up listening to. The first came as Zigaboo started “Cissy Strut” just two songs into the show. The song starts off with a relatively straightforward pattern carried by an offbeat exchange of kicks and snares that are intertwined by a 16th note hi hat pattern.
In an interview with Modern Drummer, Zigaboo explained the purpose of this simplicity. “I’ll stay at home’ and just play real simple until we (the band) decide, musically, that we’re ready to experiment together,” he said.
It’s akin to when a rapper feels out the beat to begin a freestyle, letting the rhythm build as they prepare a verse. When the rhythm coalesces to a tipping point, rappers break down the beat with rhyme; Zigaboo with drumsticks.
At 69, he played “Cissy Strut” with the same flavor and pizzazz that he brought to funk in the 60s and 70s. Improvisational and expressive, his limbs alternated rhythm as rappers alternate flow. The snare drum was almost his timekeeper as he stayed in the pocket on downbeats before going against the rhythm using offbeat kicks and punchy hits across the set.
From “Cissy Strut” the band moved into classics like “Cabbage Alley” and “Hey Pocky A-way” during which Zigaboo showcased that his greatest strength might be his modesty. He’s surely a sophisticated drummer, but where some drummers overplay to stimulate the listener, Zigaboo plays the bare minimum to achieve the same affect. There wasn’t a better example of this than “Hey Pocky A-Way.” Zigaboo started things off with a minute’s worth instrumental playing the song’s patented 3/2 kick and snare clave pattern. It was repetitive but not monotonous. It’s a sonic consistency that builds tension as a race car does when it revs its engine at the starting gate.
During “Funkify Your Life” and several other songs in the show, Zigaboo even sung while playing. The high notes he couldn't hit he exaggerated with high-pitched falsettos into the mic. At this point, drumming is such a deep un-conscious activity for Zigaboo, he’s able to be a real showman on stage. In between songs he told anecdotes about his career and reflected on the night being his first time back in Austin in nearly 40 years. After wrapping up “People Say” Zigaboo and his Funk Revue left the stage, but only momentarily, as he came back out minutes later for a 4-song encore. We wiggled our shoulders, swung our hips, and waved our arms to dance. The funk was alive.