Rain threatened Jazz Fest all day Friday, and when it finally came, it closed the show. Also, notes on Wilco, Keith Urban, Hozier, Lágbájá, Kid Jordan, Hozier, and Royal Teeth.
Friday at Jazz Fest ended early, more for the threat of rain than what actually showed. At 5 p.m., Jazz Fest executive producer Quint Davis told the audience at the Acura Stage that rain was coming in an hour to an hour and a half, and it would be bad. He didn’t mention the tornado watch we were under starting at 4:56 p.m. yesterday.
Rumors of hail and obviously real lightning loomed over the last hour, and at 6 p.m. the festival shut down, cutting Jimmy Cliff and Wilco off an hour before scheduled. Keith Urban continued for almost 15 more minutes, but then he left as well, turning the Acura Stage crowd loose moments before the rain started. Nothing Biblical, but it was a real, hard, New Orleans summertime thunderstorm, and it blew over in about a half-hour, by which time the Fair Grounds were down to the stragglers who waited out the rain in tents.
It’s easy to slag Keith Urban, who for all of his much-vaunted guitar chops is pretty lightweight. His voice is thin and rides the song more than drives it, but his act is made for the big stage. When he played a WNOE radio party at the House of Blues’ Parish last year, he didn’t seem to know what to do with the intimacy. On the Acura Stage with an act specifically designed to reach people a football field away, Urban seemed at home. His easy smile on camera on American Idol was on display Friday, where those halfway back and further were, in effect, watching him on TV as well.
- Wilco’s set ended too soon to be satisfying, but it was fun while it lasted—poppy and felt, perhaps because they knew it wouldn’t last, and lyrical in the end, with a lovely version of “Impossible Germany” to meet the dour sky with something sweet.
- For me, the highlight of the day was Lágbájá, a Nigerian singer and saxophone player whose show was less pop than his videos suggest. It made symbolic sense that the drums and percussionists were on the lip of the stage with Lágbájá and Olufunke Montcayo since their dense, nimble patterns on a variety of drums were as crucial as the voices to defining the band’s Afrobeat sound. Still, they did borrow bits of jazz, R&B and even contemporary pop when Moncayo’s voice was processed for a computerized Minnie Mouse effect. But she was showstopping in a soul diva moment, singing, “You’re never far away from my mind.”
- When Hozier did, well, anything, excited squeals followed quickly. His singing was his strength, but the Irish blues man Andrew Hozier-Byrne acquitted himself honorably, taking the music seriously and bringing out Andrew Youngblood Hart to play Skip James’ “Illinois Blues.” The excitement he generated reminded me of one thing Jazz Fest rarely is—sexy—and how many of the bands that have become Jazz Fest icons were sexy decades ago when they were in their 20s and made the music that made their names. The automatic suspicion of youth remains one of festgoers’ less appealing traits.
- Kidd Jordan announced, “If y’all don’t dig it, I’m sorry,” to the faithful who made it to the end of his powerful set in the Jazz Tent. He and the other members of the Improvisational Arts Council were heading soon after the set to Chicago to celebrate 50 years of AACM—Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians—Sunday night. For 50 years, Jordan has been playing powerful, personal music, and the sonic storm he conjured during the last 10 minutes of his set would have been impressive at any age, much less 80.
- Pop band Royal Teeth recently signed to Elektra Records, and when I told one musician this, she asked, “Do labels still sign people?” In the past, the band could resemble a Disney Channel pop band—far more exuberant than any group in real life—but Friday they were relatively grounded, which made their show more visually coherent. Nora Patterson’s ‘80s pop waif in the middle of the stage is often the picture of yearning, but any drama was chased away by Gary Larsen’s frisky puppy leaps and bounces. A more tethered presentation and a set that built energy instead of spending it all jumping in your lap in the first two songs made it easier to appreciate the clarity of their pop which, like Urban’s, is made for lots of people. Another encouraging sign was that the first new song they debuted, “Rich,” was slower, more spacious, and Prince-like than anything else they’ve done. Could their adult teeth be coming in?