Dr. John disappoints; George Porter Jr. doesn't on the first day of Jazz Fest.
[Updated] The Zurich Classic is on the West Bank this weekend, and yesterday Jazz Fest felt like a practice round - a beautiful day for everybody to get out to the Fair Grounds, warm up, get their first beers, their first cochon de lait, and their first sunburn. But while a lot was good, little on the lineup screamed, "SEE ME!"
I give Dr. John credit for committing to the return to his psychedelic self. Other artists who've made albums with auteur producers that revisit their former selves back away from that album fairly quickly. Dr. John opened his set on the Acura Stage with a series of songs from Locked Down, then stayed in the Night Tripper mode. Unfortunately, his band - the Nite Trippers - simply wasn't didn't have enough game for his material. "Walk on Gilded Splinters" was logey instead of swampy, and their inability to hit the stylized New Orleans groove that these songs require left them static. The one person on stage who seemed to be having fun was the woman playing trombone, who took a solo in every song I saw, usually from the lip of the stage. Those around me attributed the band's shortcomings to not being from New Orleans, but the band on Locked Down were from out of state as well. On Friday, they just weren't up to his material and stature.
Recent Jazz Fests have been a reminder that time forces a changing of the guard, as The Radiators hung it up, and this year The Nevilles perform one day while Aaron performs another, neither closing the Acura Stage. You often notice that some of the funk legends are not what you lovingly remember and hope for, but not George Porter Jr. He remains reliably funky and committed to the thing he does. Lineups come and go (though his current one is pretty stable; it seems like Brint Anderson and Mike Lemmler have been with him since they put a man on the moon), but he continues to musical meaning in Meters-like funk, and still does it with a lot of joy.
- "We all came back to soon and we all got a cough," Mark McGrain said during his set in the Jazz Tent with Plunge. "Some called it the Katrina Cough. We called it 'croop with a K.'" The sonic equivalent of that description is a crusty stomp as James Singleton beat on his strings and McGrain mired his trombone in his mute. For the last two numbers, McGrain brought out Tim Green and Kirk Joseph to do something I'm surprised doesn't happen more often - contemporary jazz from a brass band-like ensemble.
- In their interview with Cherie LeJeune, The Breton Sound talked about not fitting in. Friday at Jazz Fest, it was clear what they meant. They played music made for arenas in an enclosure made for horses in a city that doesn't have a path for people who want to make big rock.
Updated April 28, 7 a.m.
Mark McGrain plays trombone, not trumpet as first written. The text has been modified to reflect this change.
Updated 8:53 a.m.
The stock photo of Dr. John was replaced with a shot from the show by David Fary.