Denver, February 5: Zepp is Funk & Chain Station at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom
The original plan, from back in November, was to head to Denver for a week to celebrate Dave Watts’ birthday week and catch some music, including his birthday show Zepp is Funk.
That was before the Marshall Fire ravaged Superior and other communities in a hurricane wildfire that leveled more than 1000 homes and structures, destroying everything most of those people had. Suddenly, that birthday show became a benefit show, and dozens of other benefits popped up in an uplifting response to the tragedy.
We arrived February 1, just in time for 6-8 inches of snow to dump on the area. Our musical adventures began February 3 and ran through Sunday, February 6. We will divide this run into four chapters.
February 3: The TMRRW PPL and Ramakhandra at Cervantes’ Other Side; DJ Williams’ Shots Fired at Your Mom’s Place
February 4: Meow Wolf Denver; Music for Marshall at Boulder Theater
February 5: Zepp is Funk & Chain Station at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom
February 6: Dave Watts’ Birthday Bash at So Many Roads
One other item that applies to all four nights: the sound engineers at each venue did masterful jobs of letting us hear the music without cranking it up to ear-splitting volumes. Additionally, they kept the set break music at a reasonable volume so patrons could hold actual conversations. BRAVO!
It was time for Zepp is Funk, now reimagined as a benefit in addition to Dave Watts’ birthday party. Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom was packed to the gills in anticipation of what was about to unfold.
Opening the show were Fortunate Sons: A Chain Station Tribute to CCR. Chain Station is a “4-piece, high-energy, get-’em-out-on-the-dance-floor string band from Denver, with Alex Thoele and Jon Pickett on guitars, Jarett Mason on mandolin, and Chris “C-Bob” Elliot on banjo. Everybody sings. We all had a blast boppin’ along to bluegrass versions of some of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s best tunes, including “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Travelin’ Band,” “Susie Q,” “Cotton fields,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “As Long As I Can See the Light,” and the band’s namesake, “Fortunate Son.”
As the main event was about to unfold, the ubiquitous Annabel Lukins Stelling and James PK Williams welcomed the capacity crowd and thanked everyone for their support for the Marshall Fire benefit efforts, plural.
The pregame meeting captured:
Let’s set the stage from left to right: Shawn Eckels (Andy Frasco & The U.N.), guitar and vocals; Todd Smallie (JJ Grey & Mofro), bass; Dave Watts (The Motet), drums; Jason Hann (The String Cheese Incident), percussion; Tony Tyler (Tony Tyler Trance), guitar and vocals; and Joel Cummins (Umphrey’s McGee), keyboards and vocals. Behind the drummers on a riser: Gabe Mervine, trumpet; Nick Gerlach, tenor saxophone; and Mark Wilkolak, trombone.
The show began with Shawn Eckels wailing on “We Gonna Groove,” a tune from the last Led Zeppelin album, Coda (1982). It was at this point that Watts and crew unveiled their secret weapon. 99.9% (probably a low estimate) of attendees would say about Miss Kim Dawson (Matador! Soul Sounds): YOU SHOOK ME. Look up the Wikipedia definition of “straight fire,” and you’ll see Dawson’s picture. Most of us who had heard her sing in the context of a fine funk and soul band; we simply weren’t prepared for her belting “The Rover.” INCREDIBLE!
Eckels took vocals on “Ramble On,” which Watts had twisted into “Express Yourself,” the 1970 funk gem by Charles Right and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. That was magic, and there was much more to come. Tony Tyler took lead vocal for “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” (Presence, 1976), featuring a magnificent tenor solo by Nick Gerlach. “Over the Hills and Far Away” featured intertwining vocals from Eckels and Tyler and another great horn arrangement. The combination of Smallie on bass and Watts and Hann on percussion was a master stroke, defining the funk in Zepp is Funk. And every tune benefited from Joel Cummins’ work on Hammond B3 and the magic keyboard that, by turns, does electric piano, clavinet, and synths.
There was a fine drum intro to “Royal Orleans” (Presence), with Miss Dawson again rocking the house. Cummins had a fine solo, as did Mark Wilkolak on trombone. And the best part of the song — by far? Miss Dawson dancing, dancing, dancing.
The arrangement for “Moby Dick,” after the head of the tune, was unique. First Watts and Hann played a duet in unison, just incredible (Hann had a full drum kit plus his percussion toys). For the second segment, Watts laid down the groove while Hann was all over his arsenal! Joe Marcinek joined the band for set closer “Kashmir,” always a big crowd favorite on a night of big crowd favorites.
Watts had lots more up his sleeves for set two (actually, he was wearing Led Zeppelin t-shirt). Tyler wailed on “Immigrant Song” with its familiar aural attack when, suddenly, the jam morphed into “Soulfinger,” The Bar-Kays’ huge 1967 smash. Talk about pumping up the jam! They followed that with “The Ocean,” Tyler on lead with Eckels and Cummins on backing vocals, very effective. Marcinek was back on guitar. When they got to the “LA LA… LA LA LA LA” section, the horns were in the lead, joined by the band and then by all of us, and I mean ALL OF US!
Ola Timothy joined Smallie on bass as the band crushed “When the Levee Breaks,” Eckels on lead with Tyler and Cummins backing. They blew up “Wanton Song,” Miss Dawson with more killer vocals and dancing. After a long percussion break, they headed into “Fool in the Rain,” a true crowd favorite. Cummins took a turn, and the horns jumped in on the Caribbean groove, Gabe Mervine out front on trumpet.
Dawson was just getting warmed up. Drums, killer bass from Smallie and that signature James Brown guitar groove (Eckels) set up “The Crunge.” Cummins absolutely nailed the synth work on this one. Eckels added some wiggy guitar effects before Dawson and band shimmied and shook straight into “Licking Stick-Licking Stick,” the 1970 James Brown hit. DeShawn Alexander, aka D’Vibes, took a seat at the B3 for this one, and the horns blew it out.
If there was one performance most will remember from the night, it would have to be “What Is and What Should Never Be.” Dawson and Eckels shared the lead with the song’s mellow opening and a fine tenor sax intro from Gerlach. Then, as the intensity built, there was that note. That one note. That note where Dawson just opened up and wouldn’t let go. As the note filled the room, people were shrieking, others floored, everyone bowled over by the power of that ONE NOTE.
Joey Porter, keyboard player and bandmate of Watts in The Motet, played clavinet to kick off “Trampled Under Foot,” as funky a song as Led Zeppelin ever performed, with Cummins on B3. Eckels was singing, guitars crunching away. Somewhere along the line, Porter and Cummins switched places, huge grins on their faces. To be fair, EVERYBODY was wearing a huge grin — all night long. Watts had one more twist as they segued into The Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Runnin’”! BRILLIANT!
Actually, Watts had one more twist ready for us. When the horde marched back on stage for a well-deserved encore, the band launched into what can best be described as “WHOLE LOTTA WAR PIGS.” You can only imagine.
Q.E.D.: Zepp IS Funk!
Great thanks to all of the musicians, crew, and organizers who helped turn this birthday party into a critically important benefit effort. Thanks also to Courtney Scout of Scout It Out Media for the outstanding photographs of the night.
[SET 1: We Gonna Groove, The Rover, Ramble On > Express Yourself, Nobody’s Fault but Mine, Over the Hills and Far Away, Royal Orleans, Moby Dick, Kashmir; SET 2: Immigrant Song > Soulfinger, The Ocean, When the Levee Breaks, Wanton Song, Fool in the Rain, The Crunge > Licking Stick-Licking Stick, What Is and What Should Never Be, Trampled Underfoot > Long Train Runnin’; E: Whole Lotta War Pigs]