A sensitive folkie may tell you to get beyond your negativity; these guys tell you to “take all that bullshit and put it in the dumpsta.”
By Brett Milano
Dumpstaphunk has a few simple missions: To rock the house, to revitalize New Orleans funk and to change the world. Other than that, they’re a modest enough band. They’re a band with a message as well as a groove, and the message is mainly the same communal one that George Clinton offered up in “One Nation Under a Groove.” In fact they played that very song as the encore of a sold-out show at Boston’s Brighton Music Hall this week, and played it much differently than Clinton would nowadays. While Clinton’s current group throws everything into the instrumental mix, Dumpstaphunk strip it all down to a mighty rhythm section — but with four singers in a five-piece band, they did nail the song’s complex vocal parts. Clinton’s earned the laurels he’s currently resting on, but the song meant a lot when covered by a band that’s still fairly young and hungry.
Dumpstaphunk was formed eleven years ago by Ivan Neville, the keyboardist son of singer Aaron, who’d already been through a few lives by then. For starters, he may be the only man alive who was once warned to quit drugs by Keith Richards (and he did). As a keyboardist, Neville’s played with the Rolling Stones and Richards’ X-Pensive Winos; as a singer/songwriter he did a few albums in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Dumpstaphunk began as a happy accident. He invited two bassists to a gig, both showed up so he kept them — and the bottom-heavy lineup (with a guitarist, cousin Ian Neville, who plays strictly rhythm) makes them stand out in New Orleans’ funk world. So does their emphasis on original material (three albums’ worth so far), when many bands in town are content to recycle Meters covers (Ian already got that out of his system, playing with his father Art Neville in a latter-day Meters lineup). Ivan’s cleaned-up lifestyle plays into the lyrics, but the message of self-reliance doesn’t get too preachy. A sensitive folkie may tell you to get beyond your negativity; these guys tell you to “take all that bullshit and put it in the dumpsta.”
Grooves flowed in a Music Hall set that stretched to nearly two hours, and for the most part, there wasn’t a lead instrument: the band is all rhythm, with Ian chugging away and Ivan weaving his keyboard licks — some Hammond organ here, some ‘70s-vintage clavinet there — in and around those looping basslines. (The only guitar heroics came when co-bassist Tony Hall switched to six-string lead, which made the sound tougher but more conventional). If the band has an obvious star it’s the one non-New Orleanian: Drummer Nikki Glaspie, who joined three years ago after a stint at Berklee. Her energy looked more remarkable when she doubled as lead singer, as on the night’s surprise finale: their own lowdown instrumental “Lt. Dan” which segued into a rap medley — with bits of Jay-Z, Q-Tip, and Ludacris —that transformed in turn to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” with Glaspie hitting all the notes Robert Plant wishes he still could. It doesn’t get much more inclusive than that.
By now it was past one am, and the Brighton soundman turned the lights up and cranked the house of music as soon as the band wrapped up — only to have them return two minutes later saying, “We don’t understand, what are those lights doing on?” You can’t shut down a New Orleans funk band before they’re ready to go.
Brett Milano has been covering music in Boston for decades, and is the author of Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting (St. Martins, 2001) and The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll (Commonwealth Editions, 2007). He recently returned from New Orleans where he was editor of the music and culture magazine OffBeat.