Last week was a very busy week for live music in New Orleans, and we saw Cibo Matto, Shovels and Rope, Dr. Dog, Neutral Milk Hotel, Valerie June, and Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings.
On Tuesday last week, photographer Patrick Ainsworth went to One Eyed Jacks to see the return of Cibo Matto on the band's Hotel Valentine tour.
On Wednesday, we saw Shovels and Rope at Tipitina's, and they are currently among the most compelling Americana bands, partly on the strength of Cary Ann and Michael Hearst's songs, but also because of the attention they pay to their sound. Guitar/drum duos can sound a little thin, but they often augment their skeletal musical lineup with a two-octave synth bass. Nothing that encourages or allows indulgence, but just enough to beef up the low end.
But more than that, Shovels and Rope thrive on their connection. They perform on a carpet rolled out onstage, and neither leaves it for more than moments. They're not just a band and not just a married couple. They're the audience for each other's performances, and they regularly make eye contact with each other that can't be missed. The electricity that comes with those looks translates into the performances, which are more rock 'n' roll than country in their shaggy enthusiasm.
Patrick did double duty on Wednesday night when he also went to the Civic to shoot Dr. Dog.
Thursday night, Neutral Milk Hotel played the first of two nights at the Civic. Unfortunately, no photographers were allowed to help everybody be in the moment, Jeff Mangum explained from the stage. Often reunited bands perform with at least a measure of self-satisfaction, simply pleased to discover that they can still rock, but there was none of that Thursday night. Mangum sang with the same urgency that he did on the band's albums, and time has taken nothing away from his voice (but it hasn't given much either. He missed the same ones he missed in the past).
Over the course of the hour-plus show, seven members rotated through instruments scattered around the stage, with Mangum and Julian Koster on bass, saw and accordion the only constants. It's no surprise that the show was more physical than the albums, but it was also prettier at times. During their set, the debt so many of today's indie rock maximalists owe Neutral Milk Hotel became obvious.
On Saturday, Patrick saw Sharon Jones and The Dap-KIngs at The House of Blues. While he was able to get to a good spot for opener Valerie June, the packed house made shooting Sharon Jones a tougher proposition.