Ever since the original lineup of the Meters disbanded in 1980, news of possible reunion gigs surface with the inevitability of each summer's hurricane season. Unfortunately, hurricanes have hit New Orleans many more times than keyboardist Art Neville, bassist George Porter Jr., guitarist Leo Nocentelli and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste have played together again. While the funky Meters -- the revamped band featuring Neville and Porter augmented by guitarist Brian Stoltz and drummer Russell Batiste -- have been a regular presence on the local and national scene since the early '90s, recent developments involving members of both bands appear to have the future of New Orleans' funkiest franchise on shaky ground.
The funky Meters' workload has diminished in the past few years as Art Neville rehabs from back surgery, so this spring, Porter, Batiste and Stoltz formed "PBS" and went out on the road as a trio. But despite sold-out shows and favorable national press, PBS has broken up as quickly as it formed.
"That shit is done," says outspoken drummer Batiste. "You can say it's due to Russell's excessive partying, and that the older guys in the band couldn't hang. And Brian Stoltz had the idea of it being like Band of Gypsys. I'm down with Hendrix, but I don't want to play like Band of Gypsys, I want to play straight-up funk. So we had a disagreement on that."
Which begs the question: if Porter, Batiste and Stoltz can't stay together for a few months, how does that affect the funky Meters?
"I don't know what's happening there," says Stoltz. "There's nothing on the books, and no talk of anything. At this point, everybody's doing other things, anyway. George is doing Gov't Mule, Art's out on the road with his brothers, Russell's in Papa Grows Funk, and my (solo) record's doing well. The funky Meters was a part-time band before -- in its best year, it did maybe 50 gigs. We've only done four-five gigs in the last year, so who knows?"
Complicating matters is the latest round of rumors -- all true -- involving a possible reunion of the original Meters. Neville, Porter, Nocentelli and Modeliste were recently offered a multi-night tour with stops in major markets such as Chicago and San Francisco, and two homecoming shows in New Orleans. Plans were also in the works to film the tour for a live CD and DVD.
"There were a lot of things that the band has discussed," says Porter. "Zig wanted to use horns on the tour, since a good two or three records we did had horns. He also wanted to hire some people to sing backup vocals. There were some differences of opinion; Zig wanted a couple weeks of rehearsals, I wanted a couple of days."
Reached at his home in California, Nocentelli sounds optimistic. "I think all four Meters are in agreement with each other in wanting to do this. I think it's time, and I think it would be a shame if we did not do it. I think we owe it to the fans, we owe it to ourselves, and to the music industry, to give people another historical event. I really don't know what the situation is right now, but I know the hardest part seems to be alleviated, which is getting these four guys to work together."
There's just one small problem.
"It's not gonna happen," says Porter. "It was very close, and everyone was negotiating in very good faith, but one guy decided it wasn't a good enough deal."
Calls to Neville and Modeliste were not returned by presstime. But Daniel Marcus of Dreamstreet Management confirmed that he turned down the reunion offer on Nocentelli's behalf. "The offer hasn't been accepted, and I don't know if there'll be another offer," says Marcus.
"At this point, it's still being negotiated," says Nocentelli. "Everything's negotiable. I wouldn't take George's feelings about [the reunion] to heart."
So the saga continues. Ultimately, the fate of both bands probably rests with Neville. "At this point, the whole ball is more in Art's court, and how he feels and what he's willing to do and go through at this point in life, with his present physical status," says Porter. "If the life of any of the bands is in jeopardy, I think the (original) Meters has less of a life existence of any of them. We got closer this time than we've ever gotten since the San Francisco reunion (in 2000). But I don't think the four minds are going to be able to get together again."