Electronic Dance Music made its Jazz Fest debut; was the Fair Grounds ready?

photo of Lil Buck Sinegal by David Fary
Lil' Buck Sinegal, by David Fary

[Updated] Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is the most current version of the modern sound that Jazz Fest lives as an unspoken antidote to. The festival is one of the last places where traditional notions of talent rule. If you sing well and play well, there's a stage and an audience for you. Whether by design or what it's come to represent for its patrons, Jazz Fest is often a musical safe haven from the heathens on the charts with their Auto-Tunes and computers and so on.

EDM is the personification of that heathen music, guaranteed to perplex if not annoy anyone over 30, and it's hard to imagine it would have played at Jazz Fest if it weren't part of this year's Native American component. When A Tribe Called Red took to the Gentilly Stage Saturday, it may be my imagination, but it seemed like the PA that often bounces sound off the Grandstand facing was tamed, so much so that from the track at the opposite end of the field from the stage, it sounded like the DJ trio was warming up. The audience certainly wasn't ready. People who normally camp near the back of the stage waited for Bonerama's turn before they set up housekeeping. Later, A Tribe Called Red played for moments in the Native American Pavilion before they blew the power. Today, they'll be at the Allison Miner Music Stage at 4:15, where they'll be interviewed by Steve Hochman. They plan to bring their laptops; we'll see how that goes.

"This goes out to all the racist sports teams," they announced from the Gentilly Stage Saturday as they started "Braves," which sampled the straight out of Hollywood Tomahawk Chop chant. The DJ set was rarely as mercilessly pointed as that, though. Often, it was simply good dubstep made with Native American samples, but they were also funny. They often lip sync'ed spoken word samples, whether they were wise bits of stand-up comedy or meat-headed Hollywood clichés. 

Elsewhere at Jazz Fest

- Gotta love the Daptone Records finishing school. Last time I saw soul man Charles Bradley, he had only recently signed to the label, and he showed ever scream, strut and drop in the first four songs. After that, there was no more drama to be had, just more songs to sing. In the Blues Tent Saturday, he started with such tightly wound reserve that every hip shake and shoulder shrug was dramatic, and each gullet-scorching cry from "The Screaming Eagle of Soul" was a wake-up call. Not that the audience needed it. The ushers had their hands full trying to get dancers out of the aisles almost from the first note.

- One way to get a standing ovation: If you're Lil' Buck Sinegal, play the National Anthem. 

- Many of the contemporary trad jazz guys talk about how artificial the "traditional" designation is. Clarinetist Tim Laughlin demonstrated that with a gesture as simple as adding Jason Marsalis on vibes to his band. A simple change in the instrumentation changed the sound into something that would have been equally at home in the Jazz Tent. 

Bonerama became MegaBonerama for Jazz Fest, augmenting their usually sizable sound with Alvin Ford Jr. on the second drum kit and Kyle Roussel on organ. It's a sign of the band's musicianship that the lineup remained light on its skank when it covered Toots and the Mayrals' cover of Fats Domino's "Let the Four Winds Blow."

- John Michael Rouchell had to strip down his sound if for no other reason than to let the rhythm section of Joe Dyson and Max Moran Jr. shine. Old songs and new material all benefit from the space and tighter, deeper grooves. 

Updated April 29, 6:55 a.m.

The publicity shot of A Tribe Called Red was replaced with a photo of Lil' Buck Sinegal.