Friday at the Fair Grounds included Christina Aguilera, Alejandro Escovedo, Hurray for the Riff Raff and more.

Hurray for the Riff Raff by Chelsea Dunn photo
Hurray for the Riff Raff at Jazz Fest, by Chelsea Dunn

[Updated] Friday at Jazz Fest offered a solid string of closing acts that included divas Chaka Khan and Christina Aguilera closing Congo Square and the Acura Stage respectively. My review of Aguilera’s show is online at The New Orleans Advocate, but I wonder if the slightly soft crowd for her - you could still find a good spot in the standing area until the music started - was because of the similar offerings.

Chaka Khan and Aguilera are not exactly the same thing, though Aguilera did tailor her show to the situation and go for something a little more old school. She included Nina Simone’s “Sugar in My Bowl,” B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone,” and James Brown’s “It’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and omitted her pop breakthrough, “Genie in a Bottle,” which has been in her set in recent months.

Still, the show often felt better suited to a casino or another circumstance, one where stagey between song patter sounds less canned and the stylistic breadth of the show would seem more necessary. The set would have also benefited from a context better suited to the production she’s used to. Aguilera seemed to enjoy primarily being a singer, but every time a prop came on or off stage or Aguilera had a wardrobe change, the effect was low rent and awkward. 

I only half-joked on Twitter that her shortened, acrobatic version of Etta James’ “At Last” reminded me of Ronnie James Dio and the tradition of ’70s metal vocalists improvising, but when Aguilera followed it with “Whole Lotta Love,” she was very credible, and it sounded like the sort of singing she was born to do. 

Also on Friday:

- This year, I’ve seen more bands than ever take short breaks and step offstage when a set would end, then come back moments later to play an “encore.” That’s a trend that could feel free to stop now.

- Alejandro Escovedo calls his band “The Sensitive Boys,” but his lineup Friday was the punkiest that he has brought to town in years. There was nothing delicate in their handling of his songs, including “Arizona” and “Deerhead on the Wall” from his return to recording after almost dying of Hepatitis C, The Boxing Mirror. His set on the Fais Do-Do Stage ended with not one but three covers: a garage jam on Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” The Clash’s “Straight to Hell” (sabotaged by the low, mushy snare sound), and hard, driving take on Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West.” It’s not a sing-along like Escovedo cover staples  “All the Young Dudes” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” but it was plenty exciting, and it was easy to imagine it becoming as wished-for at his shows as the others.

- Hurray for the Riff Raff blew people away on the Samsung Galaxy Stage. Those around me who showed up based on curiosity and buzz were knocked out, and a friend elsewhere in the crowd saw the same response. As I wrote in my review for the Advocate, Alynda Lee Segarra’s ability to make the songs about the words and ideas without letting the songs feel the strain of purpose was impressive. Her songs have a lot of gravity, but the show was also a lot of fun. 

- One of the great things about seeing the first sets of the day is that you often see bands’ first sets at Jazz Fest. Rock band The Honorable South made their debut Friday on the Samsung Galaxy Stage, and singer Charm Taylor’s joy at simply being there was obvious, endearing, and one of the most real things I saw among all the show at the Fair Grounds.

Honorable South by Chelsea Dunn photoCharm Taylor of The Honorable South, by Chelsea Dunn


Updated at 9 a.m.

The original post was changed to include photos by Chelsea Dunn.