QOTSA, Beach House, Weedie, and "Exile" Play Night Shows During Jazz Fest

The jam wave that followed Phish’s first appearance at Jazz Fest changed New Orleans’ nightlife during the festival, for years turning it into a place where the members of Lettuce are royalty, Grateful Dead-like jams take place nightly, and friendships made on the Jam Cruise find a stage. Funky jazz rock, rocky jazz funk, and jazzy funk rock have been the dominant sound for a decade, but this year featured some shows that acknowledged the broader spectrum of music. On Friday, April 27, the festival closed with sets by Sting and Sturgill Simpson.

How Does Jazz Fest Turn 50?

On a star power level, this year’s Jazz Fest was soft. Its biggest names play casinos and theaters, not arenas. David Byrne’s tour will play Saenger-like venues when he’s not booked at festivals. Jack White fit in the Saenger as last time he was in town, and it’s hard to imagine that the poorly received Boarding House Reach changed his draw for the better.

Jazz Fest: Tank and The Bangas Contain Multitudes

Friday at Jazz Fest was a lesson in context. I went into the day excited to see Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, but after an afternoon that included Fiend, 3D Na’Tee, Tank and The Bangas, and Jupiter & Okwess from the Congo, a dude with carefully crafted country(ish) songs didn’t fit the day’s flavor profile. The musical and lyrical clarity in his songs were also at odds with the sometimes gnarly music I got from Tank and Jupiter. 

Jazz Fest: The Second Saturday at the Fest and at Night

Saturday at Jazz Fest ends with Cage the Elephant and Aerosmith opposite each other at the Gentilly and Acura stages. One rocks; one used to rock. Cage the Elephant has never sounded as gloriously decadent as Aerosmith in the ‘70s, but neither has Aerosmith since the ‘70s. I realized at one point in their 1980s comeback that I cared more about what happened to Alicia Silverstone in their videos than the songs themselves, and that was that.

Jazz Fest: The Death and Rebirth of the NOJO, Pt. 1

In his best days with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO), Victor Atkins could have supported himself. Not his wife and kids, and a mortgage would have been tough, but he could have handled the one-room apartment he lived in for a while, furnished only with a futon and a piano. On some of the longer national tours early on, he got paid not on a per-gig basis but on a contract for the tour, and that worked out pretty well.

Jazz Fest: Catching Up with Smoking Time Jazz Club

The Frenchmen Street swing/trad jazz scene can sometimes feel like it wants to be boldly rooted in tradition, but musical archaeology doesn't fill the tip jar. The Smoking Time Jazz Club does the work. They declare in all-caps on their website, "When we play the greats like Louis, Duke, Jelly, Bessie or Billie, it's because they really were geniuses," but dig deeper than that for source material for their nine albums, the most recent being last year's Take Your Time and Fly

Jazz Fest: Tuesday Night in the Clubs

In recent years, Jazz Fest at night has been a jam fest, and that’s certainly going on. Every night this time of year, some combination of guys who don’t usually play together are playing something funky somewhere in New Orleans. Fortunately, this year’s offerings have been broader than that. People are still jamming, but we also get nights like tonight, where our highlights have a little range to them.

Jazz Fest: David Byrne, Jon Batiste End the First Weekend on a High Note

[Updated] This first weekend of Jazz Fest will be remembered—to the degree that it will be remembered at all—for its extreme pleasantness. Whether because Festival Productions economized this year because they have their eye on their 50th anniversary in 2019 or because the right big ticket talent simply wasn’t available this year, the headliners were respectable but not spectacular draws. Sunday was the busiest day of the weekend with David Byrne and Jimmy Buffett topping the bill, but the crowds remained manageable throughout. 

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