On New Year’s Eve, an annual over-blown affair of exuberant cover charges and absurd, societal-induced expectations to pass a good time, the Joy Theater hosted a funky trifecta at the restored landmark with local favorites Jon Cleary, Dumpstaphunk and the New Mastersounds.
Winter Circle Productions’ triple bill at the Joy stood out among NYE offerings in New Orleans, a city for too long focused the holiday’s attractions around the Sugar Bowl (now mercifully returned to its rightful date on New Year’s Day) with historically sparse big-draw bands.
Boosted by its vibrant Canal Street marquee and prime location, a capacity crowd ranging from dumb-drunk party amateurs to seasoned psychedelic warriors danced below disco balls until well past 3 a.m.
Elegant Englishman Jon Cleary kicked the night off at 10 p.m. with a solid solo piano performance that included staple local covers of Professor Longhair and the like to rousing originals such as “Mo’ Hippa.”
Funk masters Dumpstaphunk opened with its post-Katrina classic “FEMA” and followed a 10-second countdown with the crowd into 2015 with “Put It in the Dumpsta,” Ivan Neville’s anthem to putting all life’s bullshit behind you.
The night’s highlight soon followed when Ivan introduced Art Neville as “Poppa Funk” before a stellar rendition of the Meters’ classic, “People Say.”
Alvin Ford, Jr., a St. Aug alum new to the band and returning the band to a all-Nola-native lineup, took a ferocious drum solo, followed by a surprising, though well-executed, cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” with Tony Hall nailing Robert Plant’s vocal phrasing as the audience erupted in appreciation.
British boys that clearly come inspired by New Orleans funk titans like the Meters, the New Mastersounds closed the party down with a high-octane brand of jam-centric, boogie-inducing funk that catered to the late-night set.
Led by nascent New Orleanian Eddie Roberts, now a Maple Leaf fixture, the band ripped through a fun set only dampened by following a funk dynasty in full control of its new-found rhythms and filled with the type of talent capable of delivering a hip-shaking, jaw-dropping and mind-melding performance worth every penny of the ticket price and exceeding even lofty expectations for celebrating a new beginning.