“We understand that anything that comes to New Orleans musically is an underdog.”
On Friday night, it is bringing Baltimore jazz pianist Lafayette Gilchrist with the New Volcanoes and Washington D.C. go-go band Anwan Glover and the Backyard Band to Tipitina’s to take on Galactic and the Stooges Brass Band, with hosts Michael K. Williams (“Omar”) representing The Wire and Wendell Pierce (“Antoine Batiste”) representing Treme.
Simon grew up in Washington, D.C., so go-go is a part of his musical upbringing. “Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers and go-go are an integral part of community in Washington, particularly in the black community,” Simon says. “I crept out to my first go-go shows when I was in high school. If Chuck Brown is the Dirty Dozen, then [Anwan Glover’s] the Rebirth.”
Simon hears connections between go-go and New Orleans music. Both are percussion-heavy and built on call-and-response interaction with the crowds, but go-go creates its groove by slowing things down and bringing it to life with congas and cowbells instead of tambourines. Go-go pioneer Chuck Brown told OffBeat in 2009, “I heard Grover Washington come out around 1977 with a tune called ‘Mister Magic’. I said, ‘I recognize that beat. I want to use that.’ What I did was we slowed down the 120 beats a minute to 60 beats a minute, and everybody started grooving, the neck ties came off, and they stopped wearing the suits.”
According to Simon, “Go-go shows are very similar in purpose and scope and behavior to sort of the brass culture here and the weekend second lines—the shouting out to people who’re at the show. Go-go music in D.C. is a street culture and the music is very reminiscent of it.”
Anwan Glover will be familiar to fans of The Wire. He played Slim Charles on the show, but he is also a second-generation go-go artist.
“As a kid, I was a heavy fan of the Junk Yard Band,” Glover says. “I used to ride my bicycle down to 19th and M Street and watch Junk Yard perform on Friday night. I fell in love with the music and the sound and I created my own band, the Backyard Band.”
“We do a lot of hip-hip songs,” Glover says. “You have that song that Wale did with us, ‘Pretty Girls’. A lot of people like it when the hip-hop artists come in, like Gucci Mane. All those guys get on the stage with us and perform. Even Lil Wayne talked about us before because he performed with us years ago.”
“The lead talker as they call him in go-go is very much the village griot, and he is talking and rapping over the day’s news in D.C.,” Simon says. “Anwan’s had a struggle. I don’t think he’d be offended if I said he came out of the gangsta life and has a lot of loss associated with that dynamic in terms of family, and he himself was shot onstage. He’s become something of an anti-violence advocate in D.C. over the last decade.”
The battle of the bands concept is a slightly tongue-in-cheek way to add a little spice to the event, which is a fundraiser for Tipitina’s Foundation and the Roots of Music. Blown Deadline has picked up the costs of the event and Tipitina’s has provided the room, so the money is going to the non-profits starting with the first dollar.
“We don’t know how long we’re going to go,” Simon says. “We hope for one more year, but when we close out the production we’d like to leave maybe a half-million dollars raised for various charities. We got about $90,000 at the auction [the My Darlin’ New Orleans gala] this year and we want to add to that with this, and I think they’ve also planned a culinary thing down the road.”
For Glover, the association with The Wire has drawn attention to his music career and helped him develop an acting career. He has appeared on Law and Order, Ugly Betty, and Treme, and he’ll be in a film adaptation of Treme/The Wire writer George Pelecanos’ novel Shoedog.
“When I come down for battle of the bands I’m going to try to connect with some people too,” Glover says. “There are a lot of movies being shot down there in New Orleans.”