I parked myself at the Congo Square Stage for almost all of my time at Jazz Fest 2018’s second Friday, May 4. Before settling in there to see The Soul Rebels and LL Cool J, I meandered over to the Acura Stage to see Tank and the Bangas, perhaps the most fun collective I’ve seen thus far. It was great seeing them on the biggest stage of the festival, especially as the group is gearing up for its major label debut on Verve later this year. As such, getting to hear “Smoke.Netflix.Chill” live in such a setting was glorious, and Tank et al certainly imbued their set with a heightened sense of excitement. Tank made use of every inch of the stage, proving time and again she’s got the chops to be a solo star, but who would ever want to perform without the magnificent Bangas, all of whom electrified a swelling crowd?
Over at Congo Square, The Soul Rebels (who the night previous rocked both Shorty Fest and their weekly Thursday night house party at Bon Temps) rocked a packed crowd, essentially opening up for one of hip hop’s progenitors. Corey, Derrick, Erion, Julian Lumar, Manuel, Marcus and Paul performed a signature set of their brass-band-meets-hip-hop brand, leading the crowd in a “504” chant. After that, it was LL Cool J’s turn, and he used the opportunity to perform classic material spanning the 30 years of his rap career. It was a veritable lesson in how to remain respected and relevant in an industry plagued with temporary talents, thanks to songs like “I’m Bad” and “Can’t Live Without My Radio.”
Jazz Fest can take the measure of the hardiest of us but that doesn’t mean we stop altogether. Wednesday night before the second weekend began the Radiators played a spectacular set at Tipitina’s front loaded with songs from their great new record Welcome to the Monkey House. The performance level was the highest I’ve heard from this band in years – it felt more like 1988 than 2018. Apparently the pace took its toll on the band’s hardworking frontman Dave Malone, who needed medical attention after the gig. But Malone bounced backed and will no doubt enjoy his rest after Sunday’s much anticipated set on the Gentilly stage, right before Steve Miller closes it out.
Glen David Andrews returned to New Orleans from a grueling tour so ill that he had to cancel several shows.
But not Jazz Fest.
And certainly not the Gospel Tent.
GDA, clad in a white “I heart New Orleans” t-shirt, was feeling the fiery tongue of the Holy Ghost as he leaped from the stage into the audience, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. His close friend Paul Sanchez commented “It was like watching God and the devil have a musical wrestling match.” Score a takedown for God. Andrews living out his life story overcoming his demons on the way to “Redemption” is one of the great New Orleans tales.
As for Sanchez, his musical revue The Rolling Road Show on the Gentilly stage Thursday featured guest turns from Alex McMurray, Ray Ganucheau, Debbie Davis, Jim McCormick, Sonia Tetlow and Craig Klein, who paid tribute to the departed New Orleans legend “Mr. Okra.” Sanchez himself sang his Cowboy Mouth classic “Hurricane Party,” the wonderful “Life Is a Ride,” and “Love Is Blind,” which was supposed to include special guest Shamarr Allen playing trumpet. This time Shamarr’s super hero power of showing up in a nick of time failed him. “If anyone sees Shamarr Allen, tell him I said hello,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez finished his fast paced set with a great version of “At the Foot of Canal Street.”
Later that day Sanchez popped up during Susan Cowsill’s set at the Lagniappe stage to sing during Cowsill’s memorable love song “The Rain Song.” Another highlight of the show was the exhilarating “Just Believe It.” Cowsill, who has performed a series of shows reviving classics from the 1960s and 1970s, sang several inspired covers – Carol King’s “I Feel the Earth Move,” Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” and a wild, set closing version of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.”
Speaking of covers, one of the big surprises of this year’s Fest was Jamaica Me Breakfast Club, which had to be heard to be believed. Fronted by Rueben Williams, with a three voice female vocal chorus and a full tilt reggae band, the band played surprisingly apt versions of tunes like the Thompson Twin’s “Let Loving Start,” Blondie’s “Call Me” and Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.”
Below, check out photos from the second Friday of Jazz Fest 2018, including the saxophone Aaron Neville left on stage where Charles would have played and CC Adcock without pants (he left them at Checkpoint Charlie’s!)