Weird Covers, Slidin’ Things & Other French Quarter Fest Delights

After a weekend of stage-hopping at the French Quarter Fest, a few quick shots and impressions:

I wasn’t familiar with Bag of Donuts’ brand of insanity so I’ll just say that of all the bands I’ve ever seen in KISS makeup doing frat-funk covers of the Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town,” they were by far the best. I’ll give them a few points for playing “Iko Iko”—of course one of the most covered songs in New Orleans history—and saying “Thanks, that was an original!”

Ingrid Lucia came up with the weekend’s most unlikely cover: The Kinks’ peak-era deep cut “Do You Remember Walter”, whose English music-hall sound adapted surprisingly well to a New Orleans arrangement, with Delfeayo Marsalis doing a trombone solo. Since Marsalis was onstage she also did R&B’s most risqué trombone song, Dinah Washington’s “Big Long Slidin’ Thing,” handling the double-entendre with enough charm to get it past a family crowd. But Lucia’s best moment was an original from her forthcoming Living the Life album: “You’re in For a Wild Ride,” which she dedicated to all the stable guys who are partnered with edgy women. Not only was it a good song, it nicely wrapped up her stage persona.

Davell Crawford tends to treat every set like one for the record books. His Saturday set at the Abita stage, played for what may have been the festival’s largest crowd, included a wide range of material (much from his new My Gift to You album), all delivered with a dramatic flourish, and saw guest appearances from Charmaine Neville and Donald Harrison Jr.  He wrapped up the set with “Hey Pocky Way” and “Big Chief,” and the subtext was clear: You’ve heard these songs a million times, but it doesn’t really count until you’ve heard him do them.

Along with Charmaine Neville—who also did her own set and guested with the Dixie Cups—the weekend’s busiest musician may have been Aurora Nealand, who played full sets with the Panorama Jazz Band and her own Royal Roses, and then turned up as the main soloist in a unique lineup of Paul Sanchez’s Rolling Road Show. The latter set went from comedy to pathos and back again, all during a hurricane medley that included the old Cowboy Mouth nugget “Hurricane Party,” a jokey tune by guest keyboardist Davis Rogan about proper storm preparations, and a heart-tugging Nine Lives number “It Could Have Been Worse” (sung on the disc by Irma Thomas and on Sunday by Arsene DeLay). DeLay was also featured on a first-class pop song, “Rebecca Sunshine”—written and usually sung by bassist Mary Lasseigne, whose voice fell prey to the weather.

FQF 2013 Crowds

Crowds at French Quarter Fest last weekend.

When he plays with the Radiators or more recently with Raw Oyster Cult, guitarist Camile Baudoin tends to specialize in high-intensity solos. But his new band the Living Rumors showed he could also play sharp and clean in a James Burton vein, as the one electric guy in a band with acoustic guitar, drums and fiddle (and surprisingly, no bass). His songlist had some vintage swamp pop (Bobby Mitchell’s “I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Someday” and a couple Fats numbers) and at least one cover the Radiators used to do, the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ “End is Not in Sight.”

I’ve liked the Revealers since the late ‘90s, when “I Like the Sound of That” seemed to be on WWOZ every few hours.  Since I come from the East Coast where reggae bands are too much into endless Augustus Pablo stoner grooves, the Revealers’ funkier approach and appreciation for a good chorus hook make them stand out. Their set on Saturday had their smallest lineup to date—singer DeRoc Debose was backed by an organ trio, only using guitar on a couple songs when the bass player switched off. But it was more diverse than usual, with some songs getting into second-line and African territory. “See, we’re not just a reggae band anymore,” noted Debose at one point.

Susan Cowsill seems fated to go onstage after rainstorms, her old band the Continental Drifters invariably seemed to get Jazz Fest slots right after downpours. So her late-afternoon set on Thursday was a perfect place to revive the old Cowsills hit “The Rain, The Park & Other Things,” where the line “Suddenly the sun broke through” picked up a few cheers. Seems that Cowsill is embracing her ‘60s sunshine roots a little more lately, as her set included lovely takes on the Troggs’ “Love Is All Around” and Tommy James’ “Draggin’ the Line.”

If you really want to feel good about New Orleans , try checking out some of the European trad-jazz bands who try their darndest to sound like they’re from here. We caught a German outfit called Fats’ Jazz Cats playing the international stage on Saturday. Not sure which one was Fats—especially since nobody in the band appeared to be over 120 pounds—but the precise devotion they showed to the old-fashioned Dixieland sound was rather touching, even if there’s something inherently comical about “Ain’t Misbehavin’” sung in a thick Teutonic accent.

And speaking of cover tunes, here’s a new rule: If you’re going to play a set by the riverside and close it with something as obvious as “Down By the Riverside,” you should always do what Bonerama did: Make it the first half of a medley with “War Pigs.”

Let’s not get into comparing one festival with another, but there’s one area where FQF really has it over Jazz Fest: You can hear and (kinda) see the stages from the food lines, a real plus for those of us who constantly obsess over songs we might be missing.

  • JazzLunatique

    Rotary Downs did a great version of the Clash’s Magnificent Seven. And The Tin Men’s “Ace of Spades” – yowzah!