Friday at Jazz Fest was a good day for a lot of interesting music, even though little that I saw was wholly successful. Yvette Landry’s honky tonk and western swing knocked me out like it didlast year and was the most spot-on music I heard, while Mystikal was the most curious. I missed the start of the set when he first addressed his eminent return to prison for violating the terms of his probation, but The Times-Picayune‘s Alison Fensterstock reports on it here. Like her, I found it hard to suppress mixed feelings during the show. Everyone I know who’s dealt with Mystikal speaks well of him, but he was arrested for misdemeanor domestic abuse battery in February, and to say at the end of the set, “If your girl gets into it, walk away; me, I’m going to run” seemed to miss his role in his return to jail. Bringing out his kids to show his human side further missed the point.
As a music show, though, Mystikal crushed for a solid 15 minutes with a live band that was as hard as his voice but, unlike the live band that Lil Wayne carries, his was a funk band, not a rock band. His relationship with this powerful rhythm engine brought to mind the relationship between James Brown and his band—a relationship that has been implied to a lesser degree by hip-hop since the first “Funky Drummer” sample. But at some point, the punishing sun on the Congo Square Stage got to Mystikal. He started sitting down between songs, held bottles of cold water against his neck, and stopped songs when his DJ rolled too quickly from the song they just finished to the next one on the set list. He complained about it feeling like 200 degrees onstage, and his white undershirt was stuck by sweat to his skin. He didn’t look out of shape, and after a few songs he recovered enough to stay with the show, but he wasn’t his usual flamethrower self.
Theresa Andersson also felt the heat during her set on the Gentilly Stage earlier in the day, but it didn’t show. She later said that she felt lightheaded when she raised her hand onstage, but that didn’t stop her from enjoying temporary freedom from her battalion of foot pedals and dancing to her band. For Jazz Fest and the dates leading up to it, she assembled a big band that literalized the connection between her new Street Parade and marching bands. Soon she will be a solo performer again, but she had four drummers, including husband Arthur Mintz, and six horns onstage with her, and when she performed the still-unreleased “Orpheus” with its chorus about “high-stepping into my heart,” the drumline pounded like one marching on St. Charles Avenue.
As a solo performer, Andersson has turned making music into a very exacting dance, and she seemed to really enjoy having a community of friends onstage with her, feeding off the energy and sense of fun that the three women in the horn section brought to the stage. Musically, the section as a whole was more spirited than precise, but the trade-off worked when the sound didn’t push them inexplicably far forward in the mix. The big band made it possible for her to perform “Japanese Art” from Hummingbird, Go!, which she hadn’t been able to play with loops, and it turned the skeletal, percussion-oriented “Fiya’s Gone” into an arena rock rouser. The big band didn’t transform the closing “Listen to My Heels” as much as it made the song bigger. The mood and feel were the same as on the record, but the song became bigger and more physical, by itself justifying the idea musically.
Elsewhere on the grounds:
– A friend groused about the drummer in Feufollet, but gunfire could have broken out during their version of the Beach Boys’ “Heroes and Villains” and I wouldn’t have noticed.
– “It turns out showing up for morning meetings and playing folk songs won’t get your kid into Lusher”—Ani DiFranco in the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage on the limits of folk music.