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April 30, 2009

Thursday at Jazz Fest

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 6:03 am

If all goes as plans – and it never does – here’s where I’ll be:

11:15 a.m. – Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone – Blues Tent

11:45 a.m. – Cajun Twin Fiddling with Joel Savoy and David Greely – Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage

12:25 p.m. – Little Freddie King – Blues Tent

12:45 p.m. – Jeff & Vida – Gentilly Stage

1:40 p.m. – Creole Zydeco Farmers – Fais Do-Do Stage

1:40 p.m. – I’Voire Spectacle feat. Seguenon Kone – Congo Square

2:00 p.m. – Tribute to Snooks Eaglin with Allen Toussaint, George Porter, Jr. and Hammond Scott – Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage

2:05 p.m. – Theresa Andersson – Gentilly Stage

2:55 p.m. – Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys – Fais Do-Do Stage

3:35 p.m. – The Meter Men: Leo, Zig and George  - Acura Stage

4:10 p.m. – Alex McMurray – Lagniappe Stage

4:25 p.m. – Kenny Bill Stinson and the ARK-LA Mystics

4:25 p.m. – Mark Braud and the New Orleans Jazz Giants

5:25 p.m. – Emmylou Harris – Gentilly Stage

5:30 p.m. – Ben Harper and Restless7 – Acura Stage

5:45 p.m. – Solomon Burke – Congo Square

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April 28, 2009

New Dylan

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 11:12 am

 

I’ve read Ann Powers, Ben Ratliff and Tom Moon’s reviews of Bob Dylan’s new Together Through Life and I’d like to hear it like Powers does – but so far, I find it hard to find an interesting handle on it. Much of it I hear as the product of a music fan trying to emulate the bluesmen he loves, down to the curdled humor of “My Wife’s Home Town” (hint: it’s “Hell”), the rump shaker (”Shake Shake Mama”) and the closing time slow dance (”This Dream of You”, “I Feel a Change Comin’ On”).

And maybe that’s the story, but “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’” and “Forgetful Heart” have a pronounced gravity that much of the rest of the album lacks. They suggest there’s more to this than just Dylan’s on-again, off-again relationship with his mysterious woman. Or maybe they just have the most interesting language of the album, and the rest of it feels easy because of its relatively conversational vocabulary and syntax. The album ends awkwardly with “It’s All Good,” with a litany of troubles ironically punctuated by the a pop cultural phrase that already feels as dated as “Talk to the hand.”

It’s possible I’m frustrated by the album because I found a way into Modern Times almost immediately, whereas Together Through Life remains pesky for me after a weekend of listening. Or, perhaps I felt like I had an understanding of Dylan and he put out an album that made me question that take. Or, perhaps after a string of remarkable albums, he paused to take a breath. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before.

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April 27, 2009

Jazz Fest Food, weekend one

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 11:09 am

 

This weekend I had the cochon du lait po-boy (one of the few things worth standing in line for), Jamila’s merguez and tagine, dibbi (which was not what I expected. Instead of chunks of grilled steak in a pita, it was shavings of grilled steak with onions and a sauce), cracklins, boudin (which seemed a little meek after Cochon Butcher’s boudin) and Fireman Mike’s crazy-good alligator sauce piquante. All were strong, and I’d eat them all again next week if there wasn’t so much left to get to.

I’m not usually someone who considers value – a good bite’s a good bite, whatever the cost – but it’s hard for me to drop $6 for the Cuban sandwich considering how the same money used to buy a significantly larger als0-good sandwich. I’d recommend the Creole cream cheesecake with strawberries even if it weren’t a good deal, but I have to observe that you get a lot of pie for your $5. You can’t be in a hurry, though. It seemed to take a while to spoon the strawberries on top.

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Jazz Fest, Day Three

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 9:30 am

A little cloud cover and a little breeze made Sunday much nicer than Saturday, which bordered on unpleasant because of the heat and crowds. I walked by Jake Smith (Acura Stage) playing sons-of-Dave-Matthews acoustic rock that was more engaging than his album, and E.O.E. (Congo Square) who impressed me with easy, worldly grooves and their rapper’s flow. I was interested in the drummer’s Spanish rapping as well, but his Latin beats left a little to be desired. Joe Hall and the Cane Cutters’ two fiddles and accordion attack also held my attention – all three subjects for further study. Wayne Toups, by the way, one-upped Joe Hall with three fiddlers onstage at one time.

On Friday, Christian Serpas’ gift for traditional country songs phrased with traditional cleverness were engaging. Sunday, songwriter Jim McCormick performed the modern incarnation of those songs – still defined by a turn of the phrase or a play on words, but with  a note of suburban, middle class nostalgia that is strong in country music these days. After McCormick played “Louisiana,” it was hard to believe that Tim McGraw’s version didn’t become a hit.

Surprise of the day was Kinky, the Mexican tech-savvy dance rock band that pointed a possible direction for New Orleans bands willing to see it. They never sold out their culture, but they weren’t limited by it either, making modern music with modern tools. Their version of “Mexican Radio” interacted with Wall of Voodoo’s recording, with singer Gil Cerezo swapping verses with the pre-recorded Stan Ridgway. Their dynamics came from old school hip-hop, and the bass throb is straight out of British rave pop. In a city as culturally complex as New Orleans, it’s exciting to imagine a contemporary music that reflects its present as much as its past.

Wandered. A little Better Than Ezra, New Orleans R&B All-Star Revue, Pine Leaf Boys. Nothing new or special to say about any of them, particularly after seeing the Avett Brothers. They were the weekend’s other revelation (with Kinky) as they played folk without the usual folk music piety. Nothing suggested that they saw what they did as something purer or more beautiful than anything else, or that it was a higher, more sincere, more sacred music. That meant that humor and sober reflection were on equal footing, and the lovely moments were privileged over the times when they made perfectly good guitars sound like they cost $45 at Toys R Us. And when folk singers inadvertently make themselves sound like each other in a host of ways, the Avetts made their personality their calling card, letting their playing, their words and their voices be distinctive and unique to them.

It was interesting to see how many people were excited to see the Dave Matthews Band, but how few visual signs of enthusiasm there were. For the middle hour, there was little dancing, few fists in the air and minimal grooving. People were happy to be there, but it wasn’t obvious why.

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April 26, 2009

Sunday at the Fest: Where I’ll Be

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 6:34 am

 

Today, Orishas has cancelled. Locos Por Juana moved into their slot on Congo Square and Vivaz! moved into the slot vacated by Locos Por Juana. Here are my plans:

E.O.E. – 11:15 a.m. – Congo Square

Pete Seeger interview – 11:30 a.m. – Music Heritage Stage

Jim McCormick and the Rarelies – 12:25 p.m. – Fais Do-Do Stage

Earth, Wind and Fire interview – 1:45 p.m. – Music Heritage Stage

Kinky – 1:50 p.m. – Acura Stage

Ebony Hillbillies – 2:05 p.m. – Blues Tent

Pine Leaf Boys – 2:55 p.m. – Fais Do-Do Stage

Better Than Ezra – 3:10 p.m. – Acura Stage

New Orleans All-Star Revue – 3:30 p.m. – Blues Tent

The Avett Brothers – 4:15 p.m. – Fais Do-Do Stage

Dave Matthews Band – 5 p.m. – Acura Stage

Earth, Wind and Fire – 5:30 p.m. – Congo Square

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – 5:30 p.m. – Blues Tent

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Jazz Fest, Day Two

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 6:23 am

 

Saturday started with the Tipsy Chicks in the Lagniappe Stage. Lynn Drury sang, “All is Forgiven on Frenchmen Street,” and I wonder if that’s true.

In the same Friday T-P story when Quint Davis talked about Jazz Fest being a family-friendly festival, he talked about how important it is to be on time. Unfortunately, neither Wynton Marsalis nor Erykah Badu got the memo; he was 20 minutes late for his interview and she was late for her set. In his interview, Marsalis made the interesting argument that “the definitive national rhythm is swing” – not a position I’m certain I agree with, but one interesting enough to contemplate.

At Congo Square, Ms. Tee’s set was a little run of the mill despite live DJ work on vinyl from EF Cuttin. During the ballad “Too Much to Lose,” I mentioned to a friend that every line in the song had appeared in 20 other songs, but she then surprised me and sang, “I shouldn’t have put the car in my name” and for a moment the song wasn’t simply a by-the-numbers empowerment ballad and the drama seemed real. The relationship between her and her user boyfriend actually existed, and we could understand it. Then she got back to the commonplace lyrics in the chorus and the relationship evaporated.

Was it weird for 5th Ward Weebie to rap “Bend it Over” to his midget dancer?

Paul Sanchez and the Rolling Road Show had the Lagniappe Stage jammed to capacity, and it’s no surprise that the many “Threadheads” in the crowd loved it when he sang, “Be a Threadhead.” The lineup said more to me than the song did – guitars, bass, drums, piano, tuba, trumpet, trombone. With five vocal mics across the front of the stage, his show staged and gave voice to the notion of community that’s implicit in much of the city’s music. His show’s more inclusive than trad jazz or brass bands, though, in that it can include rock (Sonia Tetlow’s punky “Summertime”), gospel (Glen David Andrews’ “Walkin’ Through Heaven’s Gate” and his own psychedelic pop (”Sedation”).

I walked up to Big Sam’s Funky Nation during a bass solo. Nothing brings me down like a bass solo. Over the course of the afternoon, Big Sam’s set became something to chew on as it typified something I’ve been thinking about. It was exciting and energetic, but because everybody played constantly, it didn’t strike me as terribly funky. There are far worse offenders and “funk” bands that offer far less in the way of compensation, but the lack of space I heard was even more noticeable by contrast when Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk followed, leaving big, deep holes in their sound to create not just a groove but funk. Then during Galactic’s set, I wondered about the degree to which this phenomenon can be laid at their feet, but in their case, they also deserve credit for transcending their Meters-y origins and developing a rock-funk hybrid that seems to be pointing the way for some of the more interesting efforts in “funk” these days – Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave. and, again, Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Obviously, my musings were far more about the state of funk than about Big Sam’s set per se, and the fact that he held my attention enough to stay with the set, start formulating thoughts and contemplate them all afternoon says there’s a lot right going on there – even when the contrasts didn’t favor him.

In the middle of that sequence of funk shows at the Gentilly Stage, I detoured to catch the end of Astral Project, who, apropos of my moment, played a very funky “Sidewalk Strut” with a brief detour in the 1960s-era burlesque club courtesy of Tony Dagradi’s momentarily bar-walking tenor.

Galactic returned from the land of hip-hop for this year’s set, augmented by Shamarr Allen and Corey Henry. They were impressive but not as impressive as their audience, which helped Henry body surf almost halfway to the sound board and back. Galactic crowds eat their Wheaties.

The audience for Wilco looked to be as dense and large as the audience for the Meters reunion in 2005, but it didn’t arrive as early. Actually, the final sets were crowded everywhere I went. Erykah Badu  had the Congo Square area packed to the back, and the track was almost closed by the overflow, and the soft rock stylings of James Taylor attracted a massive crowd as well.

I was a little surprised that Wilco didn’t play any new material, but the show seemed tailored to Jazz Fest, playing up the beautiful and rootsy and making the whisper-to-a-squall moments happen less jarringly. 

James Taylor played the hits and people sang along. The strangest moment, though – yes, there was a strange moment – when he sang “Steamroller Blues” through the side of his mouth, tightlipped, only partially articulating the words. It made me wonder if he had suffered a stroke that I didn’t know about and hadn’t noticed earlier. But no, the next song and the rest of the set he sang beautifully, so the only conclusion I can draw is that he thinks the way to sound like a blues singer is to pretend you’re palsied.

… and a last thought on Spoon and Friday. A reader at Nola.com said Spoon wasn’t Jazz Fest material. On the surface, I get that, but their songs have the same beautiful, clockwork quality of classic Meters – pieces written in such a way that the omission of any part would cause the song to fail. That doesn’t mean they’re the same as the Meters, but they’re not as far from Jazz Fest aesthetics as it might have seemed at first.

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April 25, 2009

Saturday at the Fest: Where I’ll Be

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 4:34 am

 

Today I hope to check in on the following:

Tipsy Chicks – 11:20 a.m. – Lagniappe Stage

Joe Krown, Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Russell Batiste, Jr. – 11:20 a.m. – Gentilly Stage

Imagination Movers – 11:25 a.m. – Acura Stage

Big Sam’s Funky Nation – 12:35 p.m. – Gentilly Stage

Paul Sanchez and the Rolling Road Show – 12:35 p.m. – Lagniappe Stage

Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife & Drum – 12:35 p.m. – Blues Tent

5th Ward Weebie – 12:50 p.m. – Congo Square

DJ Jubilee – 1:10 p.m. – Congo Square

Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk – 2:05 p.m. – Gentilly Stage

Savoy Music Center of Eunice Saturday Cajun Jam – 2:50 p.m. – Fais Do-Do Stage

Galactic – 3:35 p.m. – Gentilly Stage

Judith Owen – 4:15 p.m. – Lagniappe Stage

Del McCoury Band – 4:25 p.m. – Fais Do-Do Stage

Wilco – 5:30 p.m. – Gentilly Stage

Erykah Badu – 5:40 p.m. – Congo Square

Creole Jazz Serenaders with Don Vappie – 5:55 p.m. – Economy Hall

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Jazz Fest, Day One

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , , , — Alex Rawls @ 4:21 am

 

Yesterday was a beautiful day to be at the Fair Grounds, but it sure seemed like the crowds were a little thin. I walked to the front of the stage easily for Drive-By Truckers and Booker T. before their set (though it did fill in as showtime neared), and the same was true at the swamp pop showcase and Spoon. Does that reflect on the lineup, the recession, or the serious work ethic of New Orleanians?

I saw and liked Lost Bayou Ramblers, David Egan and Christian Serpas and Ghost Town but have nothing to say about any of them that I haven’t said before. I tried to see DJ Hektik, but technical difficulties resulted in false start after false start, and even though my entourage wanted him to succeed and get his show going, and some point we bailed. There’s too much going on during Jazz Fest to watch techs check wires on a silent stage.

Yesterday in the Times-Picayune (two days ago online), Keith Spera asserted that people really aren’t that bothered by the VIP/corporate accommodations, but I know one woman who was really pissed off when she discovered that the largely empty, clean bathrooms in the Grandstand were waiting for Big Chiefs to use them, while the riff raff had to wait in a 20-woman line on the ground floor or face the portables. I guess she was okay with that and just didn’t know it. Later in the day, Britt Daniel of Spoon looked at the largely vacant tract of land in front of him and asked, “What is this end zone? Oh, VIP,” as if he’d just discovered he had mice.

In yesterday’s story, festival producer Quint Davis said Jazz Fest “should be safe, clean, well-behaved and run on time,” he said. “It should be good music, the best food on earth, and it should be an environment where you can bring your children and your parents.” Evidently no one gave the Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood that story; he walked onstage and the first words out of his mouth were, “Look at all you good-lookin’ motherfuckers!”

It’s hard to imagine that we’ll see a more emotionally complete show this Jazz Fest than the Truckers’ set. They started with a man contemplating suicide in a stomping, big rock “Lookout Mountain” and finished by celebrating the joy of living with “Let Their Be Rock.” The party gladiators could sing along to much of it, even “The Living Bubba,” the story of a musician Hood knew who refused to stop performing even as he was dying of AIDS. “I love how they get the frat boys to sing along with a song about a guy who died of AIDS,” my wife said. “That’s how you change the world.”

Booker T. slid onstage unobtrusively during “Lookout Mountain” and accompanied the band with equal discretion. His contributions to their songs were rarely noticeable, but about 20 minutes in, Hood announced Booker for a mini-set drawn almost entirely from Potato Hole, his new album on which he’s backed by the Truckers. The night before at a television taping in a room small enough to hear the guitars from the amps, the band sounded as rowdy as the Exile on Main Street-era Rolling Stones under Booker’s beautiful, floating organ lines. Yesterday, they sounded more like heavyweight MGs channeled through the PA, but the songs gained power and size outdoors. The Booker set could probably have been a song shorter, but it finished with a version of “Time is Tight” that made sense for the Drive-By Truckers, raving up in the end and turning everything they touch into something that can flourish on the big stage.

I ended the day at Spoon, and they were clearly not a typical Jazz Fest band. I don’t think any song followed typical blues changes, and the only solo I can recall was a strangled, noisy, often dissonant break by Britt Daniel. Otherwise, the tight, clockwork-like compositions were the thing, and they worked over and over again because of the inventive arrangements. The airy and effects-laden “The Ghost of You Lingers” from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga was simplified for the stage and became relentless and vaguely menacing in the process.

The Dirty Dozen Horns joined them for a handful of songs, but a wind tunnel effect seemed to roll right through their end of the stage, playing hell with their sheet music. Still, they soldiered on and added classic soul fanfares to “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” and “Rhythm and Soul.” Those touches, though, suggested that Spoon wasn’t as out of place as it might have seen. The audience that stayed put for most of the show says they were doing something right, but ultimately, Beatles-era British pop is central to their sound and they’re just as rooted in the pop/rock tradition as anyone on the Fair Grounds. They just weren’t grounded by their roots.

On our way from Drive-By Truckers to Spoon, we walked by Congo Square where Wynton Marsalis was leading the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and Yacub Addy and Odaadaa through the 2 1/2 hour-long “Congo Square”. On our way from Spoon to our car, we passed Congo Square again and it was just finishing up. People I know that have heard it say it’s amazing, but from the start it seemed hard to imagine that people would sit for the whole piece, and it turned out they didn’t. The audience was solid to the soundboard, at which point there was more and more space between people who seemed to be checking it out curiously before moving on.

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April 23, 2009

My Jazz Fest Friday

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 9:14 am

 

Here’s what I hope to see:

High Ground Drifters – 11:15 a.m. Fais Do-Do Stage

The Vettes – 11:30 a.m. Gentilly Stage

Como Now – noon – Gospel Tent

Lost Bayou Ramblers – 12:20 p.m – Fais Do-Do Stage

Spencer Bohren – 12:20 p.m. – Blues Tent

David Egan – 12:35 p.m. – Acura Stage

DJ Hektik/Freedia and Nobby – 1:35 p.m. – Congo Square

Christian Serpas and Ghost Town – 1:50 p.m. – Lagniappe Stage

- a good time to eat & take a break, though I’ll probably look in on Marc Broussard and/or Amanda Shaw

 Henry Butler – 2:55 p.m. – Congo Square

MyNameIsJohnMichael – 3:05 p.m. – Lagniappe Stage

New Orleans Nightcrawlers – 3:15 p.m. – Jazz & Heritage Stage

Drive-By Truckers with Booker T. – 3:35 p.m. – Acura Stage

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave. – 3:45 p.m. – Gentilly Stage

Warren Storm, Willie Tee and Cypress with Tommy McLain and T.K. Hulin – 4:20 p.m. – Fais Do-Do Stage

- I’d like to think I’ll look in on Wynton Marsalis’ “Congo Square” at 4:40 at Congo Square, but realistically, there’s too much else going on, and I know I won’t commit almost 2 1/2 hours of Jazz Fest to the piece.

Spoon – 5:30 p.m – Gentilly Stage

Gringo do Choro – 6 p.m. – Lagniappe Stage

Will I see all of that? I doubt it, but that’s the tentative plan. Everything could change once I’m on the ground and/or hear something cool.

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This Weekend @ Chickie Wah Wah

Filed under: Pop Life — Alex Rawls @ 9:00 am

 

Unfortunately, we missed part of Chickie Wah Wah’s listings for this weekend. Here they are:

Thursday night: Lil’ Buck Sinegal, C.C. Adcock and Steve Riley’s “Cowboy Stew Blues Revue”

Saturday night: “KJosephonic’s Second Line Philharmonic” – a Tribute in Brass to Snooks Eaglin and Eddie Bo with Kirk Joseph’s Backyard Groove, the Paul Cebar Band and the Stooges Music Group.

Sunday night @ 7 p.m.: John Mooney solo acoustic performance. @ 11 p.m.: E.O.E. @ Locos Por Juana with special guests Kirk and Charles Joseph

 

And looking ahead

Wednesday night: Papa Mali with Friends

Friday, May 1 @ 10 p.m.: Twangorama-Wooden with Jimmy Robinson solo acoustic. @ 12:30 a.m. John Mooney with Reggie Scanlan and Camile Baudoin

Saturday, May 2: Mardi Gras Indian Orchestra with Papa Mali, Kevin O’Day, Camile Baudoin, Evan Christopher, Helen Gillet and many more.

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