THURSDAY, MAY 4—FAIS DO-DO STAGE, 2:55 P.M.
If you want to give your visiting friends one of those quintessential New Orleans music experiences, just take them to the Circle Bar when the Iguanas hold court on Wednesdays. Given two sets to stretch out, the band could hit you with anything—not just the revved-up Latin rock they’re known for, but new songs, garage covers (the Turtles’ instrumental “Buzzsaw” is currently one of their best) and a jazz workout or two. It’s the kind of gig that keeps the band hungry a quarter-century down the line.
So how does a band stay fresh after 25 years with the same four guys? “Separate hotel rooms,” says the Iguanas’ guitarist/saxophonist Joe Cabral. “Also a lot of openness in communication, that typical long-term relationship stuff. It’s not rocket science; you just need to have a lot of love and respect for each other. And we realize that the power of the band is in the band. We each bring a lot in, but the collective is the thing. You bring your best game and what happens can be pretty special; that’s what motivates us to keep it going.” (They’ll be skipping the Circle Bar between Fest weekends, playing a longstanding gig at d.b.a. instead).
The Iguanas—Cabral, guitarist/accordionist Rod Hodges, bassist Rene Coman and drummer Doug Garrison (they’ve been a quartet since saxophonist Derek Huston left after Katrina)—have lost count of the Jazz Fests they’ve played, but it would be hovering around two dozen by now. And certain Iguanas hits—“Oye Isabel,” “Benny’s Cadillac”—are usually safe bets for the setlist. “People come to expect a certain thing from us, and we like to give ’em that,” Cabral says. “But we always like to throw in a couple of offhand pitches, if you will, to give them something to talk about. So they can leave saying, ‘They just did this weird thing, cool.’ We’re definitely not afraid of opening it up to whatever inspirational direction the songs might take. But that being said, the main thing we dig is songs, so we leave it open, but not too open.”
They’ve lately flexed their improvisational muscles with a couple of collaborations—one with Papa Mali, working together as Maliguanas. “He’s been a pal of ours for years so we finally said, let’s make this a real thing. His songs seem to lend themselves to our interpretations; we do some of ours and songs neither of us normally do, like Burt Bacharach’s ‘Walk On By.’” Their other ongoing collaboration is with Ed Volker: Cabral’s a regular member of his post-Rads lineups, and the Iguanas have done a few shows with him as a whole. “That’s been awesome because he has a beautiful following and people love his material. We play a tune and his followers are all singing along.”
One thing you may not see this year is a new Iguanas album, though it’s been three years since Juarez, one of their stronger ones. “We have some new songs, but that’s the problem with being an independently mis-managed artist. So I can’t tell you when, but a new record is the next step.”