What: Dr. John and the Lower 911 (opening act Jon Cleary)
Where: Alix Goolden Performance Hall
When: Last night
Rating: **** (out of five)
Last night Dr. John (aka Mac Rebennack) sauntered on stage, a dapper figure in alligator shoes and a pony-tail adorned with multi-coloured head bands: red, black, green, red and white. The gold band in his hat sparkled. His cane was festooned with a thatch of feathers maybe it possesses mysterious gris-gris qualities.
The black-suited Night Tripper seemed hip and mysterious; frail perhaps, but in good voice. Certainly his trademark yowl one New Orleans glorious and defining soundswas intact.
His set hotted up immediately. By the time Dr. John launched, early on, into his new song, Age Ice, sweaty dancers in were boogying in the upstairs aisles. Its a funky, grooving tune, although the message is bleak: This is the ice age smoking the crack, final blunts, wanna be in jail.
A few others were similarly dark and swampy. During another new song, the murky Walk on Guilded Splinters, he sang of being unafraid of tom cats and filling his brain with poison.
Dr. John, now in his his eighth decade, offered a lively, percolating version of his 1973 hit, In the Right Place. A lively trombonist led the crowd for the oooh! refrain. Also notable, a slinky, hyper-funky take on Champion Jack Duprees How Come My Dog Dont Park (When You Come Around). The trombonists solo earned well-deserved cheers.
Dr. Johns career started way back in the late 1950s, when he emerged as a formidable keyboardist and guitarist who played with Professor Longhair and Joe Tex. In the late sixties, buoyed by the spirit of the times and possibly other joy-producing triggers, Dr. John was reborn as Dr. John Creaux the Night Tripper a wigged out Crescent City freak in beads and a plumed snaked-skin top hat.
Hes had his career ups and down (in the 1980s Dr. John even wrote jingles for the Wendys hamburger chain). Yet remarkably, at age 71 the singer-pianist is on another high, having recently released the critically lauded disc, Locked Down. One writer deemed the recording a collaboration Black Keys front man Dan Auerbach the wildest record Dr. John has cut in years.
Certainly, last nights show confirmed the doctor continues to be in fine form.
The evening was opened by Jon Cleary, the fine New Orleans-based piano player originally from (believe it, friends) Kent, England. A solo artist in his own right, Cleary is also a respected sideman whos played with the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton.
Cleary, in bowler hat and striped jacket, proved himself a confident, swaggering keyboard/singer. He leaned into the lopsided, staggered rhythms of New Orleans piano with the joie de vivre of a starving man gobbling a barbequed steak. Especially appreciated was Clearys soulful take on Lets Get Low Down, a lesser known tune by Allan Toussaint.
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