We’d never recommend hard living as a songwriting tool. But it seems to work fine for Anders Osborne, who unveiled yet another set of unflinching, confessional songs at the Acura Stage. One especially lowdown number alluding to substance abuse and trashed relationships was introduced as “a little thing I wrote over a bowl of breakfast cereal.” (BM)
Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials must slam a six-pack of Red Bull right before they take the stage. At one point, Lil’ Ed leapt off the stage—most people wouldn’t attempt this with a parachute— and roamed the audience while a valet spooled out a lengthy guitar cord, a la Guitar Slim. He also played a demonic slide guitar that would have made his uncle, J. B. Hutto, very proud. And he really is “Lil’.” (JH)
When the Red Hawk Mardi Gras Indians performed, all suits were equally beautiful and equally elaborate. No Wild Man. No Flag Boy. No Second Chief. Just a row of Big Chief costumes. What’s up with that? (AR)
Listening to John Boutté sing Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “An American Tune,” I thought back to a 1990 interview with the “Doc” Pomus. “The record business doesn’t want great singers like Johnny Adams or Jimmy Scott,” he insisted. “The record business wants disposable singers!” (RS)
There was much less cussing from the brass bands this year. Rebirth did not insist that you take your incestuous-union drawers off when singing “Casanova.” The New Birth, when asking the immortal question, “Which individual rang the law enforcement personnel on their phone?” did not reply that “that prostitute rang the law enforcement personnel on their phone!” If tourists from Kansas want to know how those songs go, they can find their own way to St. Bernard and Marais. (DK)
Before the festival, producer Quint Davis said Jazz Fest “should be safe, clean, well-behaved and run on time…. It should be good music, the best food on earth, and it should be an environment where you can bring your children and your parents.” Evidently, no one showed the Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood that story; he walked onstage and the first words out of his mouth were, “Look at all you good-lookin’ motherfuckers!” Wynton Marsalis and Erykah Badu missed it as well. He was 20 minutes late for his interview and she was tardy for her gig as well. (AR)
The F-word made an impressive comeback this year, thanks largely to the efforts of the Drive-By Truckers. But Frankie Ford also got into the swing, when he used an augmented version of “Well, boo-hoo” to chide people who sold fewer records than “Sea Cruise.” (BM)
Drive-By Truckers have always been my idea of a great American rock band but the transformation they’ve accomplished in their current collaboration with Booker T raises my estimation of them even higher. The three guitars are still there, but now Patterson Hood’s band has backed off a gear, achieving a much fuller dynamic range in the process. Making Booker T. a part of the group, even for this one run, energizes him and helps DBT play arrangements with carefully delineated parts. This version plays the Booker T instrumental “Time Is Tight” like seasoned Muscle Shoals vets, every lick and fill in perfect place while still driving the rhythm with conviction. The dramatic ballad “The Living Bubba” has the tension of a Neil Young epic in this configuration.
The most important advantage of working with arrangements based on cleanly articulated parts is that Hood no longer has to shout. His strong, sure voice stands out in these arrangements, and his outstanding lyrics cut through the air with poetic intensity. “Hang on to that ticket stub and have no fear,” Hood sings in “Let There Be Rock,” his coming-of-age anthem centered on the ticket he had to the upcoming Lynyrd Skynyrd concert that never happened, “because the show has been rescheduled.” The irony builds while he sings the line again, as if he’s thinking about all that was lost in the process. “Well I never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I sure saw Ozzy Osbourne,” he exults, breaking the reverie, and those guitars roar with full throats, far more effectively than if they’d been on 11 all through the song. (JS)
Really, Acura Stage-goers, enough with the beach gear already. Furniture, portable shelter, and now bouncing beach balls? How old are we here? (RC)
The Imagination Movers have long appealed to parents and kids alike, but to close out their Acura show the Disney Playhouse stars went all out, pleasing grown-ups and perhaps puzzling the sippy-cup set with a rocking cover of Big Country’s “In a Big Country.” Lyrics like “In a big country dreams stay with you / like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside. / Stay alive” can always be explained on the car ride home. (MT)
The best local anthem was Alex McMurray’s “Where K-Doe Lives,” which enshrines the late singer as the folk hero he always knew he was. (BM)
I sadly found myself merely able to fly in, run through the building site which was once our house, barking orders and inhaling dry wall, stopping only to rehearse, perform and immediately leave for the airport and the next gig! I was frazzled, but at the Lagniappe Stage my humanity returned. Everything that makes this town so kind, so cozy—it was all there. And then there was the performance—the warmth, the wind, the joy at looking out and seeing the shiny faces of friends and smiling strangers, including those Jazz Fest staples (you know the ones), the white folks with the clothes sense of Stevie Nicks meets Chief Sitting Buffett doing interpretive dances (sans rhythm). Watching a couple engage in a senseless act of lewd gyrations to one of my “deeper” ballads made me realize that I was indeed having the quintessential Fest experience!—Judith Owen
The problem with the Neville Brothers Band is that one member is so inordinately talented and musically dominant that he upends the balance in the group. I’m speaking, of course, of Willie Green, the drummer. When the group goes into a classic New Orleans number such as “Big Chief,” it’s Green who’s pumping the most fuel through the motor. He has a rare gift for keeping a rock-steady groove going even as he never seems to play the exact same phrase twice. He might replace a quarter note with two eighths or a triplet. He might delay that quarter note to create some tension and release it, or he might leave it out altogether, allowing you to play the deliberate omission in your head.
These are all tricks he learned from Art Neville’s former drummer, Zigaboo Modeliste. On Thursday Modeliste played with the Meter Men, a power-trio version of the original Meters (with Leo Nocentelli and George Porter, Jr. but without Art). In that stripped-down format, the ingenuity of his drumming was more obvious than ever. But Green is now his equal. (GH)
Irma Thomas celebrated her recent induction into the Blues Hall of Fame with one of her best sets in three decades. She and her crack band smoked, balancing the old with the new, and the not so new. She then spent the next week at Piety Street Recording working on her golden anniversary CD. (JH)
Tony Bennett looked and sounded great. His band was the definition of swinging, and we liked his insertion of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” into the set. That said, he looked almost as bewildered at being in this setting as the audience was seeing him in it. (DK)
I thought this was a really good Jazz Fest. I always love going live on the air at the ’OZ hospitality area, whch is an oasis for a lot of folks, and it’s always fun to listen to out-of-towners discovering people who toil in our bars and clubs every week. I also like that the festival brings in acts from African and Caribbean countries and give them a chance to perform.—Washboard Chaz
Making the way from Congo (Miami’s tropical groovers Locos por Juana) to get to Gospel in time for Mavis Staples, but caught up at Jazz & Heritage where Ilê Aiyê of Brazil was shakin’ the stage with drums, chants and dance. Just at that moment, up the path from the track come the Furious Five, Untouchables and Big Steppers social aid and pleasure clubs with the Young Pinstripe Brass Band making a serendipitous counter-pulse. Carnivale on the left, Mardi Gras on the right, waiting to see if the rhythms ever synced up (almost, but not quite). Then, there in the middle strolls Tao Rodriguez Seeger, fresh off the triumphant Saturday performance with his grandpa Pete, doing a double-take as he looks from stage to parade. He takes in the world of beats, shrugs bemusedly and moves on. (SH)
Who knew there was a second all-bass male choir in Ladysmith, South Africa? Playing the Blues Tent, the Ladysmith Redlions of South Africa sounded like a younger, waiting-in-the-wings version of the more famous Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It’s good to know that such a thing exists. (BM)
France contributed two of the more unusual acts of the first weekend of Jazz Fest. Tarace Boulba, a combination brass band and vocal orchestra created a sound totally suited to the streets of New Orleans. Though the charts are more intricate than New Orleans brass band arrangements and leave less room for improvisation, the overall effect approximates the excitement of a hot night at the Blue Nile. Bombes2Bal, a stripped down rhythm and voice ensemble from Toulouse, used call and response chants, an archaic three stringed instrument called an esclop, a diatonic accordion, a Brazilian zabumba drummer and percussion to fashion a hypnotic dance music. They played at the children’s tent and induced nearly the entire crowd to form a giant ring dance in front of the stage. (JS)
Most collaborations between African and North American musicians go wrong in one way or another. The musicians in each camp may play too much, as if they’re trying to impress one another, or else they may play too little, as if they’re trying to demonstrate their respect for the other side. Ensemble Fatien avoided both traps. Seguenon Kone is a master drummer from the Ivory Coast who formed Ensemble Fatien with an unlikely array of New Orleans musicians: clarinetist Dr. Michael White, vibraphonist Jason Marsalis, steel guitarist Marc Stone, bassist Matt Perrine, accordionist Sunpie Barnes, singer Margie Perez and saxophonist Rex Gregory.
The addition of tempered instruments has added a whole new dimension to Kone’s polyrhythms. White’s composition, “Ancestral Reunion,” began with a bluesy clarinet solo, but acquired an entirely different character when Kone added the chiming melody and rippling rhythm of his marimba-like balaphon. Marsalis’ vibraphone shadowed the balaphon and seemed to comment on it.
On Kone’s composition, “Ngoro,” the African cross rhythms were given a twist by Perrine’s ostinato bass figure and by Stone’s pedal steel solo. The set climaxed with a version of “St. James Infirmary” unlike any of the countless other versions played at the festival. One can only hope that this group stays together long enough to record. (GH)
“So nobody can complain,” said Etta James, before she and her Roots Band launched into “At Last,” her signature song. After a beautiful rendering, she said simply: “Beyoncé, that’s my song!” (RS)
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings demonstrated that classic soul is alive and well. Miss Jones not only had fun onstage, but she was spotted more than once at other stages and in line at Lil’ Dizzy’s Soul Food enjoying herself. (JH)
The difference between Brother Tyrone and Sharon Jones is that the Dap-Kings work to create a moment that never actually existed, where Memphis horns and Motown drums played behind a female James Brown. Brother Tyrone seems to have emerged from a melting iceberg, ready to make the southern soul of 30-plus years ago without a hint of retro. One isn’t necessarily preferable to the other, but those who loved Jones’ first weekend set need a dose of Tyrone as well. (AR)
Voice of the Wetlands Allstars may be the best band in the world. They’re so good that they don’t have to let Cyril Neville get righteous. (DK)
“We’re losing an acre of wetlands every hour, which is why there’s nothing left to prevent the Gulf of Mexico from rolling right over us,” said Tab Benoit during the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars set. “This could be the last Jazz Fest if we don’t start doing something about it today!” (JS)
It’s fitting that Tab Benoit and the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars were performing on May 3. May 3 was Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday. (RS)
When Pete Seeger appeared early Sunday morning on the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage, an audience member asked him about his January performance with Bruce Springsteen at the Lincoln Memorial inaugural concert for President Barack Obama. After a few kind words for Springsteen (he called him honest and well-organized), Seeger admitted he preferred smaller events. The intimate interview was likely Seeger’s favorite public event over his extended 90th birthday celebration, which also included an Acura Stage appearance on Saturday and concluded the following weekend with a million-dollar bash at Madison Square Garden. Seeger seemed more comfortable and confident, starting things off with a sing-along “Skip to My Lou” and plucking his banjo while recounting the story of running into an old House Un-American Activities Committee foe at a Louisiana party. Once branded and blacklisted as a radical, Seeger was more of a peacemaker when asked how he justified appearing at a festival sponsored by an oil company with a questionable human rights record. Seeger declined to engage the issue directly, saying instead that it was important to talk with people you disagree with.
Meanwhile, Dr. John had already clarified/retracted his controversial pre-Fest statements about Shell’s responsibilities to repair the wetlands, and he wasn’t about to stir it up any more during the festival. Although an airplane pulled a Shell-admonishing banner above Acura during his set, the Doctor played it cool, and during his Music Heritage Stage interview, he mentioned the role of oil companies in wetlands depletion but didn’t specify any by name. (MT)
For me, the most moving experience of this year’s festival was seeing thousands of people in front of the Acura Stage mesmerized and galvanized by the seemingly simple act of singing along with Pete Seeger’s completely acoustic, homemade songs. Playing his old five-string banjo and 12-string guitar and radiating integrity, Pete gently demonstrated the timeless, quiet power of the traditional music that set me on my personal musical path some 45 years ago, and he moved me to tears.—Spencer Bohren
The way DJ Soul Sister ramped up the energy before Chuck Brown suggests that having a DJ spin between all the sets every day at Congo Square would be a very cool thing. (AR)
Most ingenious cover: Twangorama’s “Pop Goes the 40” was, yes, 40 very recognizable bits and pieces—from “Day Tripper” to the “Looney Tunes” theme—threaded together over four minutes. Joked guitarist Cranston Clements, “We would’ve put that on our CD but it would’ve cost us a hundred thousand bucks.” (BM)
Indians do the darnedest things. After Sugarland invited Mardi Gras Indians onstage for “That’s How I Like It,” Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush stopped for a photo with their guests. When the camera came out, the Indians reflexively posed, one obscuring Nettles entirely behind his suit. (AR)
I didn’t see Bon Jovi, but when I was exiting the Economy Hall Tent after Gregg Stafford’s excellent tribute to Danny Barker, I heard a little bit of it sounding like the white noise of traffic on the interstate as it races on the overpass through Treme. (DK)
It was partly out of irony that I began championing Bon Jovi as a backlash to the backlash: could one ’80s hair band really give Jazz Fest (like love) a bad name? I bought a Bon Jovi lighter from the gal on Maurepas Street who set up a JBJ shrine and made plans to meet my JBJ-T-shirted girlfriends at the Acura Stage.
First, though, I had a date with Kings of Leon, who rocked me so hard at Voodoo Fest 2004 that I went out and bought every album. Sadly, they never got the memo that Jazz Fest’s supposed to be fun. Barely acknowledging the crowd, they played with surly, too-cool-for-school ’tude that invited no one in.
Meanwhile, Jon Bon Jovi was showing his love. “Thank you for finally inviting us down to Jazz Fest!” he enthused. Looking boyishly cute in totally uncool cargo pants, he and Richie Sambora pulled out every cliché in the rock ’n’ roll book without a trace of irony, and damn if they didn’t pull it off. Sambora’s defiant middle finger punctuated “Have a Nice Day,” which Bon Jovi underscored with a double-maraca shake. Then, on “Bad Medicine,” Bon Jovi thrust his mic onto Sambora’s guitar. Talk about homoerotic! It was all deliciously cheesy, like the faux-nostalgic invocation of Wilco’s “Heavy Metal Drummer”: “I miss the innocence I’ve known / playing Kiss covers beautiful and stoned.”
Bon Jovi blew it, alas, by saying “good night” at 6:25 (!), then leaving the stage for real after a fake-encore “Dead or Alive” and a real-encore “Twist and Shout” with a full 15 minutes left on the clock. Talk about anticlimactic. You had me at “hello,” boys, but you lost me at “goodbye.” (CM)
The real Tony Soprano would certainly have been fist pumping in the Big Chief enclosure during that most historic of all Jazz Fest sets, Bon Jovi. After all, the New Jersey mobster had some “business” in New Orleans after Katrina that went very, very well. (JS)
Bon Jovi has been an easy whipping boy for this year’s festival, a benchmark of how far it’s fallen from some idyllic yesteryear, but certainly as long as I’ve been attending—over 20 years—there have always been bands who in the dark recesses of their hearts hoped 50,000 or so people would see them at one time and buy their tour shirts. But do they have the ability to write hooks as big as Endymion floats? The self-editing discipline to discard anything less than immediate? The willingness to put a sing-along moment, a group handclap or some sort of shtick into every song? The talents of the entertainer may not be ones that Jazz Fest has typically embraced, but that doesn’t mean they should be overlooked. And you have to admire the confidence of someone who has the sack to open with “Living on a Prayer.” (AR)
No, Bon Jovi didn’t ruin Jazz Fest, but it didn’t enhance it either. The booking, we’re told, was a good thing because it brought in bigger crowds, which allegedly spilled over to the Gospel and Jazz tents. Yet none of those tents were any more full than usual while the massive crowds camped out at the Acura Stage. Getting a prime seat for John Mayall’s headline set at the Blues Tent proved surprisingly easy. If, however, you wanted to catch a reasonable glimpse of Dr. John—who played the pre-Jovi slot at the Acura Stage—you were pretty much out of luck. If we need an arena-level act, how about R.E.M., whose lead guitarist used to attend the fest regularly as a paying customer? (BM)
Drummer Cedric Burnside and guitarist Lightnin’ Malcolm’s Blues Tent barnburner unintentionally provided a perfect lead-in to Neil Young’s set, which followed theirs 30 minutes later on the Acura Stage. Cedric is of course a descendant of the late R.L. Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm is one of the most ardent tenders of the legacy of the legendary Junior Kimbrough, so they are obvious heirs apparent of the North Mississippi hill country blues and play it better than most anyone of their generation. But what was most striking was the sonic common ground shared by their Kimbrough-inspired earthy throb and Young’s caveman stomp. Really, sit down one night and play Most Things Haven’t Worked Out side-by-side with Zuma or Greendale and you’ll see what I mean. (RC)
At least two major reviewers took Neil Young to task for putting a quarter-hour of “Change Your Mind” into an otherwise hit-heavy set. Sorry friends, but that beautiful semi-obscurity was the best thing in the set. Classic-rock reference points are fine, but intuitive performers like Young tend to pour the most feeling into songs they haven’t played a million times. (BM)
Another equally profound, though more abstract, moment struck me as Neil Young delivered the chorus of his classic folk-rock anthem “Old Man:” “Old man take a look at my life I’m a lot like you / I need someone to love me the whole day through / Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that’s true.” Watching the now 63-year-old stringy, gray-haired icon sing these tranquil verses as his wife provide the background vocals struck me. Amidst a set that was largely characterized by wild, rebellious, feedback-laden guitar jams, in the peace and calmness that I felt in those words, perhaps I saw the genuine sincerity and candor that the youthful, thick, longhaired songwriter sought all those years ago. (AL)
Though he wasn’t backed by Crazy Horse and the setlist leaned heavily on the hits, Neil Young’s Sunday set was by no means a lazy trawl through dewy-eyed baby-boomer nostalgia. With no introduction or fanfare, Young hit hard right out the gate with “Love and Only Love” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” conjuring luminous feedback and yanking strangled notes out of his beloved Old Black (as iconic a guitar as B.B. King’s Lucille at this point) like his life depended on it. His white shirt was emblazoned with an abstract paint pattern, but I overheard audience chatter mistaking it for blood splatter, which it might as well have been given the full-steam intensity of Young’s performance. An epic reading of “Down by the River” featured extended Young solos worthy of the great long-form jazz explorers and consumed nearly a quarter of the set. At 63 with a voice that breaks hearts, a guitar that boils the blood, and an enviable back catalog of classic songs, Neil still sounds vital, and most rockers half his age still can’t touch him. (RC)
What is amazing about Jazz Fest is that the planet comes to us right in our own backyard. So along with our most loyal fans, dear family and friends, and fellow musicians, we have folks from all over the world rockin’ to Roddie Romero and the Hub City All Stars. It’s not hard to spot these folks either; just check out how they dance! No judgments here. We want you to make your body work any way you know how, even the guy this year that dropped down into the Fair Grounds’ dusty funk to do the Sizzlin’ Bacon. Burn, Brutha, Burn!—Eric Adcock of Roddie Romero and the Hub City All Stars
Allen Toussaint can thank the English for the two highlights of his Sunday set. Both were buried treasures from his catalogue: The funny, funky “Here Come the Girls” was lost on a long-deleted Ernie K-Doe album before someone in the UK made it a TV commercial. And he revived the tough, streetwise “Hercules” (first recorded in the ’70s by Aaron Neville), possibly because Paul Weller recently did it. (BM)
New Orleans has a long history of amazing performers whose legend never completely translates to the outside world. Somehow, Jazz Fest mediates between New Orleans and the outside world, and the moment when a local artist breaks through at the festival is a spectacular thing to witness. This fest it happened to Glen David Andrews, and when I say it happened to him, it was as if some otherworldly force took over him during a performance in the Gospel Tent that was completely transformative.
His latest album is a gospel session in which Andrews feels secondary to the events surrounding him. At the Gospel Tent, he was a combination of James Brown and Prince fronting an outstanding gospel band that included his cousin Troy Andrews on trumpet. He wore a white suit and immediately took emotional control of the tent, which was packed with almost all white festgoers who were definitely not regular sanctified worshippers. Andrews had them fervently chanting “Help Me Jesus” and screaming as he doffed the white coat with a flourish. He jumped into the crowd and created a frenzy on the floor. There were the usual photo flashers, but people were clamoring to touch him, to take a spark from this burning light of a spiritual force in their midst. “Anybody out there want a blessing?” He asked and they screamed affirmation; he was preaching and literally everyone was with him on the call-and-response “Thank you Jesus / Thank you Lord,” over and over again, ecstatic in what would be an intensely sexual way in any other setting.
At the close of his set, Andrews got the whole crowd singing “Glory, Glory Hallelujah,” jumped into the crowd again and suddenly Quint Davis was in center stage like he was going to talk Andrews to the end of the set: “This is New Orleans sanctified music,” Davis announced, “one of the great talents of New Orleans music, Glen David Andrews!” Andrews put his white coat back on as the band vamped. Looked like it’s over, but No! It was the end of the James Brown show, the white coat slipped off the shoulder and Andrews removed it in one powerful, sexually charged gesture. He danced again and had the crowd chanting. He and Troy were grinning like schoolkids, wrapped in each other’s arms until the MC finally regained control of the stage. (JS)
Kinky’s tech-savvy Mexican dance rock pointed a possible direction for New Orleans bands willing to see it. They never sold out their culture, but they weren’t hamstrung by it either, making modern music with traditional and modern tools. Their version of “Mexican Radio” interacted with Wall of Voodoo’s recording, with singer Gil Cerezo swapping verses with the pre-recorded Stan Ridgway. Their dynamics came from old school hip-hop, and the bass throb is straight out of British rave pop. In a city as culturally complex as New Orleans, it’s exciting to imagine a contemporary music that reflects its present as much as its past. (AR)
John Scofield is justly admired as one of the best jazz guitarists of his generation. But when he played the Blues Tent, he was playing a set of vintage gospel hymns rearranged as New Orleans funk workouts. With keyboardist Jon Cleary and bassist George Porter, Jr. providing the second-line push-and-pull, numbers such as “Ninety Nine and a Half” and “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” sounded little different, really, from what you one heard at the Fair Grounds from the Meter Men, Galactic or Dumpstaphunk. So what gave this set the edge over the myriad of other funk sets over the two weekends? The secret was Scofield’s jazz background, which allowed him to be simultaneously more adventurous in harmony and more restrained in phrasing. More chances and fewer notes made all the difference. (GH)
After many years of festing I thought I’d heard everything, but it was sissy-bounce act Freedia & Nobby at Congo Square who made me think twice. It wasn’t just the tough way they delivered proudly gay-themed raps; and it wasn’t just the transsexual dancers (and a couple of natural women) shaking their butts throughout. It was their friends from a local gospel choir, still wearing their regalia from a Gospel Tent performance, cheering them on upfront. (BM)
E.O.E. had an amazing Jazz Fest this year, and highlights include seeing Quint Davis on the side of the stage checking out E.O.E.’s set, hanging with Earth, Wind & Fire and watching them in action, and forming a relationship with the great Miami-based band Locos Por Juana.—Billy Franklin, E.O.E.
Once again, the sound at the Blues Tent was quite often dreadful. The overload of bass was so heavy, that it drove people out of the tent before the end of the second song of Roy Rogers and the Delta Kings’ set. (JH)
Robert Cray was visibly and vocally upset with the sound at the Gentilly Stage At the conclusion of “Our Last Time,” he stared at the sound booth and yelled, “You Suck!” (JH)
If not for Solomon Burke’s astounding version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” his show would have been riveting simply for freak appeal. His size in a shiny purple suit. His pimped wheelchair. His glowering paternal authority (“No rap,” he said sternly and repeated a number of times on and off mic before his youngest daughter sang “I Will Survive”). His lack of boundaries (playing with former Blind Boy Clarence Fountain’s ponytail while Fountain sang). And his shaky grasp of history (dedicating a soul medley to the greats that had passed on including Percy Sledge, who hasn’t). (AR)
The Avett Brothers played folk without piety. Nothing suggested that they saw what they did as something purer or more beautiful than anything else, or that it was a higher, more sincere, more sacred music. That meant that humor and sober reflection were on equal footing, and the lovely moments were accompanied by perfectly good guitars played like they cost $45 at Toys R Us. Folk singers inadvertently make themselves sound like each other in a host of ways; the Avetts made their personality their calling card, letting their playing, their words and their voices be distinctive and infinitely more memorable for doing so. (AR)
At Congo Square, Ms. Tee’s set was a little run-of-the-mill despite live DJ work on vinyl from EF Cuttin. During the ballad “Too Much to Lose,” I mentioned to a friend that every line in the song had appeared in 20 other songs, but then she sang, “I shouldn’t have put the car in my name” and for a moment the song wasn’t a by-the-numbers empowerment ballad. The drama was real, the relationship between her and her user boyfriend actually existed, and we could understand it. Then she got back to the commonplace lyrics in the chorus and the relationship evaporated. (AR)
When the Tipsy Chicks played the Lagniappe Stage, Lynn Drury sang, “All is Forgiven on Frenchmen Street,” I wonder if that’s true. (AR)
The Ponderosa Stomp has to be the only place where you’ll see a performer—in this case, Texas soul man Bobby Patterson—crack a joke about condoms five minutes after boasting that he’s a great-grandfather. But just when the Stomp threatened to turn into a septuagenarian’s parade, relative youngsters the Flamin’ Groovies (actually prime movers Cyril Jordan and Roy Loney, with the A-Bones and guest guitarist/keyboardist Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo) practically leveled the place. Seemingly unaware that a large part of the crowd had come specifically for them, they came on like a band with something to prove: It wasn’t just the dream set of Groovies originals and compatible Who/Kinks covers, but the mad glint in Loney’s eyes throughout. (BM)
South Louisiana blue-eyed soul singer G.G. Shinn—famed in his home state as long time vocalist for the Boogie Kings—may have been unfamiliar to many Stomp attendees before he walked out onto the stage to the strains of “Harlem Shuffle,” but judging from the crowd’s reaction, his indigenous brand of big band R&B will languish no more. With the audience in the palm of his hand and Little Buck Sinegal’s band lending the perfect amount of grit to Shinn’s angelic vocals, the relationship between band and singer was effortless. (MH)
I saw Little Joe Washington arrive on Decatur outside the artistes’ entry dungeon doors: a tiny, I mean wizzened, been-homeless, toophwess black dude with that could-be-25-or-95 look, a new suit that fit him like three blankets on an EMS rescue victim, and greyed-out dreadtangles. I mention the hairdo because it gets used. And well.
Come showtime, Little Joe had to be “encouraged” from enthusiastic stage wanderings to sit down and consider his guitar. Good thing, as plugging him in was just flipping that on-switch to instant great thing. In the intro/vamp, his play was all disjoint and disconnect with anything resembling a time sign or steady meter not part of the neuron-firing priorities.
I am figgering this to rock out like hot night with a genu-wine peer to Hound Dog, without slide but with the normal dispensation of digits. But then the Chitlin Circus begins and how. First, while discoursing on a subject I take to be of a “blue” nature, he plays by rubbing his dick between the pickups. Then his feet. Then, well, everything; he is known to play his ax with his whole person in the course of his set. The freaky bad scary thang be: he is playing throughout the whole routine. Wherever his right hand wanders his instrument, the left knows exactly what it is doing on the frets. Whoop. Besides the crotch shots, the real killers are the teeth playing (uh…what teeth?!?) and those dreads, which have apparently matted into a viable plectrum substitute. And I am sure when he is biting out the notes, he must have some bicuspids left to fill in (I pray); but when he does the superfast glissando scrape-and-shred, please be against something with some enamel left, and not soft tissue. Ow and wow.
As he wraps up his first of countless rounds of Chitlin Freakshowisms, Mr. Washington sits down and starts to Ice us all out, playing like a hard Albert Collins, and I later hear he and Little Joe did serious hang back in Texas in the day, which was the day when I doubt if my parents were even dating yet and I am turning 51 as I write. (DM)
I sure wouldn’t have wanted to follow Little Joe Washington’s set at the Stomp. He makes everyone think that he’s a bit crazy and/or drunk, then whips out the most unruly and wicked blues guitar licks since Buddy Guy waxed Stone Crazy! back in the late ’70s. Many blues and rock guitarists use the time-honored show stunts like playing behind the back or with their teeth, but Little Joe jumps off from there and gets downright lewd with his axe, rubbing the instrument along every—and I do mean every—surface available on his body, all while improvising wild lyrics and never quite letting the songform fall apart. Considerable credit must go to his brave accompanists—bassist Steve Calandra (of Happy Talk Band and Morning 40 Federation) and drummer Bret Bohnet (of White Bitch Prey Drive and One-Man Machine), both of whom kept the pocket together so Little Joe could go off like some weird cross of Arto Lindsay and Lee “Scratch” Perry, but playing blues. (RC)
As a participant in Noizefest for five years running now, I’m somewhat precluded from talking about it in anyway resembling an objective fashion, and as a result usually don’t write anything about it. But this time around, Noizefest also featured a noise second line parade through organizer Michael Patrick Welch’s neighborhood led by the Noisician Coalition plus the addition of any other participants with portable instruments. In what other town is such gleefully aberrant behavior not only tolerated but encouraged by fellow citizens of all walks of life? Neighbors on Lesseps and nearby streets peeked their heads out of doorways, perked their ears up, and greeted us with…smiles? Cheers? Not a sneer or thrown piece of rotten fruit in sight. And this to the spectacle of a ragtag bunch, some in Noisician Coalition uniforms, making a sputtering cacophony of scrapes, plonks, beeps, honks, wails, screeches, thunks, and harrumphs. That it was greeted with such wholesome response made it feel like being in a Dr. Seuss book. —RC
The first thing I heard was the loud hum of equipment as I walked down the side of Michael Welch’s house to his backyard, the site of Noizefest. A DJ was spinning the cream of his crate through a delay unit while unidentified gear pulsed away under a tarp, all punctuated by the grind of a sno-ball machine. Helen Gillet coaxed solar flares from her electric cello on the porch while a guy nearby banged a gong.
The sound was at times deafening and chaotic, but the textures didn’t compete as much as they informed each other. A young girl—it should be noted that the kids running around NoizeFest seemed to be having a better time than the ones at the Fair Grounds—was yipping into a mic wired to a labyrinth of processing while across the yard Ray Bong and Rob Cambre tore into a sax duo, with Bong bellowing, “It’s not my fault!”
The Noisician Coalition’s tremulous second line around the block was the visual highlight of NoizeFest, but the spirit of the event was captured by a young man in a heavy metal T-shirt in the back tent, wordlessly running his guitar through a series of pedals. You got the feeling that this guy, like many others here, spent hours in his room doing this, approaching the answer to some internal question, and found himself in a venue to do so among the like-minded, and in that NoizeFest achieves a greater form of harmony.—AVC