Sunday at Jazz Fest, little things seemed to say a lot.
What’s up with Pitbull and his tongue? Sunday at Jazz Fest, I watched much of his set from the back of Congo Square to see if he was reaching people—he was—but when I moved up for the last 15 minutes, I noticed his tongue lolling around in his mouth when he wasn’t singing. That doesn’t happen every day or with every singer. And how does a guy get to be Mr. Worldwide rolling his tongue around like that? Then I saw photographer Patrick Ainsworth’s Pitbull photos and it appears to have been a set-long thing.
Pitbull’s stage presentation displays the sexual poetics of a Univision game show, which I found offputting but not disqualifying. He’s not someone whose music I ever specifically want, but it’s too immediate and hooky to dislike without malice. To his credit, he also did something I suspect Jazz Fest organizers often hope will happen with pop acts that rarely does: He tailored the show to the situation. When he played New Orleans on Super Bowl 2013 weekend, his tracks were the sonic star of the show, and he and his band seemed to do little more than add punctuation and hype. At Jazz Fest, most of the sound seemed to come from the stage, and he played a more Latin music-oriented set than he did in 2013—a plus for someone booked to broaden the festival’s Hispanic appeal.
Part of the success of Pitbull is that his music isn’t complicated. His electronic disco’s four-four thump doesn’t test anybody’s dance moves, but everybody can bounce and pump their fists to it, and a lot of people did. At the end of a long weekend of Jazz Fest, the show was an easy ending.
- At the same time on the Gentilly Stage, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga were a frustrating spectacle. The infield and track were packed, but those farther than 100 or so feet from the stage heard the show as if it was on television in another room in the house. The PA was maddeningly quiet, and the rear speakers were off, which made the big band that supported Bennett and Gaga almost completely inaudible. Bennett and Gaga could be heard but just barely, so much of the crowd drifted away. (According to Keith Spera, the rear speakers did eventually kick in).
The Bennett/Gaga show is essentially a Bennett show, and Lady Gaga felt superfluous. She wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t needed either, and she seemed to know it. As she sang songs that Bennett has sung for decades without her, she provided a theatrical element, changing gowns three times in the first 20 minutes (there would be more), and dancing around him, hanging on him, resting her head on his shoulder. A friend thought she seemed to patronize Bennett, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Gaga’s theatrical nature manifested itself as she played the role of the canary—the eye candy female sidekick in fabulous outfits who makes her man look strong and desirable. Still, I can’t see what that role offers her other than respectability, but respectability’s not what the little monsters want, and respectability’s something that Bennett’s audience is not likely to grant her.
- Perhaps the most unexpected moment of the festival was the enthusiastic cheer when Abigail Washburn sang “dirty capitalist system” during “Rise Above,” and song she performed with Béla Fleck in their banjo duet show on the Sheraton New Orleans Fais-Do-Do Stage Sunday. I wonder a) if the song would have seemed more strident had she not been so charming, and b) does this mean Class War is finally coming? First we march on the Big Chief bleachers, then the world. Workers unite! (For more of my review of Fleck and Washburn, see The New Orleans Advocate.)
- Because I'm so amused by it, here's a bonus photo of Pitbull, his tongue and his dancers.