Dr. John and the Lower 911
Where: Alix Goolden Performance Hall
When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $48.50 in advance, available at Lyle's Place, Ditch Records and the McPherson Theatre box office or online at hightideconcerts.net;
$55 at the door
He was born Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. His friends call him Mac. Channelling the flamboyant dress and eerie, soulful mystique of a voodoo medicine man, he adopted his "Night Tripper" persona in the 1960s.
No stranger to reinvention, New Orleans rhythm and blues purveyor Dr. John is now in the midst of a new renaissance, due in significant part to the buzz surrounding his new album, Locked Down.
Produced by Dan Auerbach, frontman of the American indie-blues groupe-du-moment The Black Keys, Locked Down received critical raves upon its release in April. Rolling Stone tipped it as one of the best albums of the first half of 2012 and it could well be a strong contender for a statuette (or several) at next year's Grammy Awards.
Much of the LP's success lies in the fact it revisits sounds and themes from Dr. John's earlier career while benefiting from Auerbach's focused, modern production. (The 30-something howler's clout with Generation Y doesn't hurt, either.)
Additionally, the album demonstrates Dr. John isn't content waxing wistful about days of yore. The 71-year-old's lyrics show an intimate concern about here-and-now social issues, especially those that afflict New Orleans, his beloved, beleaguered hometown.
In the song Ice Age, the pianist and growler, a former heroin addict, warns of crack addiction, a more modern scourge. My Children, My Angels is a plea to his progeny -- and perhaps, more generally, to youth growing up in gritty urban environs -- not to repeat the mistakes of his past.
This impulse to be reflective, but not desperately nostalgic, is also front and centre on the standout track Kingdom of Izzness, a look at the present and immediate future through the lens of life experience.
"If we ain't for the izzness, we for the wasness," Dr. John told the Village Voice about the message he's trying to convey. "If we ain't izzness, we are some dead suckers."
This colourful, live-in-the-moment ethos, as well as his hopeful spirituality, is no doubt a major reason why the formerly hard-living tunesmith is touring in his 70s. Dr. John's current jaunt has seen him perform festival and club gigs in Europe and North America.
His show at Victoria's Alix Goolden Performance Hall is one of only two he'll play in Canada before veering back to the U.S.
The choice of venue -- an old church that now belongs to the Victoria Conservatory of Music -- is a symbolically fitting one.
Music has afforded the hallowed room, like Dr. John, a new lease on life.
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