Chucklehead isn't calling its first shows in 16 years a band reunion, but instead a funk family reunion. That's because everyone who played in Boston's wild funk-meets-hip-hop troupe during its original run from 1988 to 1997 will be on board for the Chucklehead shows happening Friday at the Beachcomber in Wellfleet and Saturday at the Middle East in Cambridge.
The reunion concerts will feature Eben "Eb-Tide" Levy on guitar, Brian Gottesman on vocals and keys, Meyer Statham on vocals and trombone, Erik "Erock" Attkinsson on drums, Huck Bennett on vocals and baritone sax and percussion, Mick Demopolous and Dave Rengel on bass, John "Scooter" Schachter on vocals and trumpet, Lenny E Len the Pirate King on tenor sax, and Robert "Biscuits" Nahf III on alto sax.
For some of these musicians it will be the first time sharing the stage, and the reunion is pulling in players who have since scattered from Boston to New Mexico, Georgia, California, New Jersey, and Maine.
But regardless of which lineup of the band a member belonged to or where he comes from now, there is an overriding Chucklehead ideal to abide by.
"I think it's why we have such a loyal following. We were playing funk and hip-hop live, and we were doing it while grunge was ruling the scene," says Levy when he and Gottesman were reached by phone while heading back from a rehearsal over the weekend. "People were shocked to see kids rapping and playing live drums. This was all before the Roots and bands like that caught on."
Chucklehead was known for its showmanship as well as for its musicality. The band stole a page from P-Funk and wore outlandish costumes on stage, creating a look that matched its irreverence.
"We were either 15 years too early or 15 years too late," Levy says.
In its time, Chucklehead released three albums and developed a reputation for its live shows that attracted followers from a then-fledgling jam-band scene. Chucklehead's creative style and obvious playing chops earned it a spot opening for Phish on New Year's Eve in 1990 at Boston's World Trade Center.
"We were playing long-form songs and our own brand of freak-out music," Levy says (and a lot of it can be heard on archived soundboard tapes).
Another memorable moment from Chucklehead's heyday occurred when a cease and desist letter arrived from Pillsbury demanding the band stop making T shirts with the Doughboy posed in a manner that Gottesman says the baked-goods company found objectionable.
"We did a gig with KRS-One at Brown (University) and the next night he was on the 'Arsenio Hall Show' and all of his dancers were wearing the shirts of the Doughboy grabbing his business," Gottesman recalls, noting that it didn't take long for an angry letter to arrive from the Doughboy's handlers.
Gottesman also reports a smooth transition back into the Chucklehead catalog.
"When it comes to the rhythms, we've picked up right where we left off," he says.
And even though a lot of the music was made in the moment, Gottesman says those archived concert recordings have come in handy for checking out various arrangements any one song underwent.
Levy calls this weekend's shows an "experiment," one that may pave the way for continued Chucklehead music.
"What would our older selves be doing in this idiom, writing new songs and re-interpreting the older ones?" he asks. "It's an excellent way to have a midlife crisis."
The "crisis" begins at 8 p.m. Friday, July 26, at the Beachcomber in Wellfleet, and resumes at 8 p.m. Saturday the 27th at the Middle East downstairs in Cambridge.
Here are a couple of reminders of Chucklehead's Boston Music Award-winning sound:
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