Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Allen Toussaint at Metrotech Park, Brooklyn NY 6/11/09

At age 70, Allen Toussaint is entitled to do whatever he wants. For his early 60s work as a New Orleans soul/pop producer, pianist and songwriter for Lee Dorsey and scores of others, he belongs in whatever hall of fame is big enough for someone of his stature (forget that stupid place in Cleveland who just inducted Journey and New Kids on the Block – or if they haven’t, someday they assuredly will). Despite grey skies and a very welcome chill in the air, Toussaint proved he still has his groove. And proof that good things sometimes actually come to those who wait: cover and drinks at his recent stand at the Village Vanguard with a dubious cast including Marc Ribot and Don Byron could have set you back something in the neighborhood of fifty bucks, while this show was free. With a five-piece band – guitar, rhythm section, percussionist and tenor sax – perfectly tasteful and in the pocket, Toussaint mixed familiar oldies radio standards, classic R&B, and a little funk along with a couple of lite FM hits.

Right off the bat, his chops were in full force. Toussaint isn’t flashy, never was – like many songwriters from his genre and his era, he doesn’t waste notes getting to the point, with a warmly chordal, staccato, even percussive attack. Nor is he a flashy singer, which was especially noticeable as the sound engineer fiddled with his vocals in the mix, but did a capable job nonetheless. He played the old stuff first: There’s a Party Going On, Here Comes the Girl and a long, tasty, fluidly soulful version of the minor-key We Got Love, which he wrote for Dorsey well over forty years ago. Then he did a medley including A Certain Girl, Mother-in-Law, Fortune Teller and Working in a Coal Mine. The Pointer Sisters’ hit Yes We Can Can was reinvented and vastly improved as yet another soul/funk number, as was another unfamiliar tune (at least to anyone who knows nothing about lite FM) apparently made famous by Bonnie Raitt.

Toussaint messed around, jazzing up some Grieg and Chopin before bringing back the groove with Get Out of My Life Woman (his most-covered song, he said, 35 times). Everything I Do Is Gonna Be Funky featured an impressively multistylistic guitar solo (his axeman had great chops, all too apparent on an ill-advised metal excursion during one of the early numbers). After over an hour and casual, warm takes of the oldschool soul tune Waiting at the Station (written for Aaron Neville, pre-Neville Bros.) and Something You Got (covered by every bluesman and woman in existence), raindrops started to appear and by then it was obvious that Toussaint wasn’t going to play anything from The River in Reverse, his superb (and perhaps career-best) collaboration with Elvis Costello. Then the band began the intro to the Glenn Campbell easy-listening hit Southern Nights, which made it easy to get up and leave. Something like that would leave a concertgoer feeling shortchanged at a pricy jazz club, but for free at lunchtime, who cares. This summer’s Thursday noontime outdoor shows at Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, put on by BAM, aren’t much: Rebirth Brass Band will be there on July 9, with Malian guitar siren Rokia Traore on August 6.

June 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Hazmat Modine and Dr. John at the Hoboken Arts and Music Festival 5/6/07

Knowing what time the bands start at this semi-annual outdoor deepfried food festival is always a crapshoot: the schedule on the festival’s official website didn’t gybe with stagetimes the day of the show. Reportedly this is par for course. Word on the street was that Demolition String Band’s 1 PM set was excellent. Hazmat Modine took the stage at just a little after two, looking like they’d just crawled out of bed, the lot of them (and there are a lot of them: two harmonicas, trumpet, bari sax, a rhythm section with a tuba substituting for bass, and two guitarists who traded off on lapsteel and banjitar). Confined to a set that ran just over 45 minutes, there was a minimum of the expansive, frequently exhilarating soloing that they’re best known for. Instead, they worked on squeezing in as many songs as they could from their wildly psychedelic new cd Bahamut along with some road-tested crowd-pleasers. They opened with the exuberant So Glad, frontman Wade Schuman and his sparring partner, Randy Weinstein trading bluesy harmonica licks over a bouncing reggae beat. Later they did a spirited cover of the Irving Berlin novelty tune Walking Stick: while it’s easy to see this song becoming totally Sesame Street (perhaps as its creator intended it), Schuman worked the lyric’s innuendo for all it was worth. Trumpeter Pam Fleming stole the show as usual with a flamenco-flavored solo, particularly apt since the song is basically a tango. When her 12 bars were up, she paused for a second, gave a quick look to the band as if to say, “look out!” and then launched the song into the stratosphere with one of her trademark crescendos.

Though Schuman looked sleepy and wasn’t nearly as boisterous as he usually is in front of the band, he had no difficulty getting the crowd hollering, with a long, James Cotton-inflected harmonica solo that he took by himself as the band looked on, singing through the reeds as does from time to time. He also added some unusual textures by playing through a wah-wah pedal on a couple of songs. The band wound up the set with an especially terse version of the title track from the new cd, a calypso-flavored behemoth about “the largest thing that never existed,” which seems to be some kind of Borges reference. The crowd didn’t want them to leave: perhaps because Hoboken is replete with blues cover bands, this exposure to something far more authentically blues-based went over particularly well.

Afterward on the Sixth Street stage, local guitarist Karyn Kuhl and her mostly female backing band stomped through a painlessly formulaic set of punky pop with cheerleaderesque vocals and forgettable lyrics. Their best song was a minor-key blues that Kuhl said they’d never played live before.

Back to the main stage where Dr. John was headlining. He’s a hot-and-cold performer: when the mood strikes him, especially in a small club, he can be electrifying, but he’s just as likely to take the money and phone it in, especially at an outdoor festival. Happily, the Night Tripper was in a particularly dark and stormy mood, the result being a fiery, impassioned, hourlong show. Before launching into the two-part post-Katrina salute to his hometown, Sweet Home New Orleans, he berated the audience to give their money only to smallscale charities: “With the big ones, the money disappears before it gets there.” A bit later he did a bristling, impressively fresh take on the old standard St. James Infirmary Blues that he ended by pounding out the opening hook from the famous Grieg A Minor prelude.

“We call ourselves Dr. John and the Lower 9/11th,” he told the crowd. He posed the rhetorical question of why they’d continue to dwell on something the rest of the world has pretty much forgotten: we’re tough customers, he said: “We carry a grudge.” This was still a party (it’s always a party when the Doctor is in town), but a defiant celebration delivered in minor keys. No Iko Iko: we got Gris-Gris instead and it was clear that Mr. Rebennac felt like he wanted to hoodoo someone. At the end of the show they lightened up a bit, the drummer showing off his collection of funk beats before bringing Dr. John back to the stage for the encores.

Despite a degree of disorganization, the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival always has some first-rate performers on the bill: the Moonlighters, Patti Smith, Mary Lee’s Corvette and Laura Cantrell have all recently played there, and it’s safe to say that this fall’s lineup should be a good one.

May 7, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment