So me and my dad used to argue about who the best instrumental band of all time was. I always stumped for the Meters; Dad told me I had it all wrong, that it was Booker T. and the MG's. And after seeing their reunion show at a jam-packed Antone's last night, I'm beginning to think he just might be right.
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This year marks the 50th anniversary for the Stax label and the label is re-launching this year. The MG's were Stax's heart and soul, their taut organ jams the hipster nocturnes of a generation. The rhythm section of Duck Dunn and Al Jackson was the epitome of economy -- the late Jackson was famous for rarely if ever playing a drum fill. Steve Cropper's chiming, chunky rhythm guitar and Jones's soaring organ were fairly well redolent of the smell of Memphis... Pork barbecue and beer.
And damn if the dudes still don't have it. Jackson's stool was occupied by a cousin, and the surviving three members were all obviously enjoying themselves immensely, as did the huge crowd. Cropper stretched a little more on the guitar than he does on the records -- I know the dude humbly claims to be nothing more than a rhythm guitarist, but man, come on. Cropper plays a mean lead and you have to recognize that he is one of the finest six-stringers this country has produced. Go back and review your copies of "Hip Hug Her," "Time is Tight," and "Green Onions" for a refresher.
What better show to match with Booker T. than UGK? Memphis and Houston have always had a sort of symbiotic relationship going back to the days of Bobby Bland and Junior Parker continuing through 8Ball and MJG, so to me, UGK occupies part of the same cosmic wavelength as the MG's. Their show was a frickin' madhouse -- the energy was palpable as the throng waited for Bun B and Pimp C to take the stage. When they did, dudes were completely blazing. Bun's opening salvo kicked like a donkey on meth, and their renditions of classics like "Pocket Full of Stones," "Front, Back & Side to Side," and "Return" sizzled, as did new stuff like their new single (the title of which escapes right now) and Pimp's solo joint "Knockin' Doorz Down."
Matt Sonzala's theory of hip-hop is that the East Coast variety rises out of jazz, and the West Coast stems from funk. Our version comes from the down home blues, and rap don't get no bluesier than UGK. Somewhere Al Jackson is smiling down on all of it. -- John Nova Lomax