The band returned to the Fair Grounds Saturday, but their nomadic fans went elsewhere or cleaned up.
Any fears that Phish fans would once again descend on New Orleans and Jazz Fest in all their unkempt, nomadic glory went unfounded. Not only were there no roving bands of tripping pranksters, but there were likely fewer of any kind of Phish fan than expected. The crowd did reach the track rails at the Acura Stage, but by choice not necessity. The audiences were more densely packed at the Samsung Galaxy Stage, where Robert Plant and the Sensation Space Shifters played a blues-heavy show that revisited and reimagined parts of the Led Zeppelin songbook with a bowed Ghanian goje; and Congo Square Stage, where Robin Thicke delivered the sort of very professional pop show that made him a star in R&B in the days before “Blurred Lines.” He’s a good if unspectacular singer, and his career success before the song wasn’t a fluke.
But as much as the audience was there for him, when he finished the hit and walked offstage with more than a half-hour left in his time slot, the crowd didn’t try for an encore and instead went straight for the exits. That’s not entirely a measure of what people thought, though. While Thicke left, his band lounged around the lip of the stage, congratulating each other on a job well done, clowning, and making it clear very quickly that the show was over.
For me, the day’s highlights came from The Mavericks and Baiana System. Since The Mavericks reunited in 2012, their shows have been passionate, dynamic, Latin-flavored rock balanced with Tex-Mex dance songs, with the dancing often led by keyboard player Jerry Dale McFadden. Singer Raul Malo can sell the drama, but he does so as an actor, not as a guy in the middle of a bad relationship. He never sounds weighed down, even when the lyrics could point that way, and that sort of buoyancy defines their last three shows in New Orleans.
Baiana System were the day’s discovery - a band from Bahia, Brazil that played contemporary, club-oriented versions of Brazilian and south of the equator rhythms. You heard cumbers, salsas and reggae, but you heard them with a low, almost subterranean bass and a five-stringed, short-necked guitar that broke off high, brittle notes. You heard them with a DJ/producer onstage adding samples (I heard a loop of the opening to Shannon’s “Let the Music Play”), manipulating the sounds and adding his own. The result was EDM-friendly, but hardly EDM. It was also music that you could imagine people dancing to now in Brazil, and something light years away from the costumed percussion-and-dance group Afoxé Omõ Nilẽ Ogunjá, which seemed like Ye Olde Village Singers by comparison.