31 July 2012
Lotta firsts tonight, lotta firsts. Ain't never been to Under The Bridge, which is a relatively new music venue that is located under the Chelsea soccer ground at Stamford Bridge. It's a basement venue and is something of a cross between The Jazz Cafe and The 100 Club. Only clean - real clean - and not malodourous in the least. Let’s see how long that can last. Small too - capacity is 550 and this is a sell-out night - the first of two such nights. There's a VIP area at the back, roped off and with some seats and its own bar, and as far away from the stage as you can get, whilst down in standing well, didn't I say it's like the Jazz Cafe ? You can put your beer down on the stage you're so close (only here someone willcome and tell you to take it off again if you do do that very thing). Anyway, nice venue.
Secondly, the good doctor has a new album out - Locked Down - produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. You may have heard that it represents a "return to form" and a "reinvention of Dr John's sound from the late sixties". Well, it is a good album - in fact it's a great album. But I would argue that there hasn't been a bad album from Dr John in more than a decade - as artists go Dr John's output has very rarely been other than at least very listenable and often much more than that. 'Locked Down' is formidably funky; it makes use of plenty of night tripper gris-gris references and such and continues to display Dr John's recent political concerns and a general lapse in his level of being gruntled with the appearance of fairness in his native country. Anyway, it's bound to feature heavily in the set list - just as his last album 'Tribal' did on a previous tour.
There is clearly no band uniform policy for the six piece Lower 911 - who together cover a range of styles from ultra-cool white Panama hat toting bass player through trombonist who has clad herself from head to toe in black leatherette to the billycock adorned English keyboard player Jon Cleary (who had also provided the opening support set). This eclectic mix of styles is only added to by Dr John in a blue suit, crocodile skin shoes, trilby hat with feathers sprouting from the band and ultra-cool ultra-dark shades. Front of stage is his position, between on one hand a grand piano, and the other a Hammond organ. And the kick-off song is the tile track of the new album - a pulsing funky indictment of the treatment of minorities and the poor in the United States, snarling with rage it's a perfect opening salvo. At one fell stroke it dispels any concerns that this band won't be able to reproduce the sound of the new album - they do more than fine. Dr John's whisky soaked vocals are like gravel drawn over a jive diaphragm. He'll cuss you, you know?
The jolly 'Rascal' (or, to give it its full title 'I'll be glad when you're dead, you rascal you') deepens the groove and gives way to a heavy take on 'Walk on Gilded Splinters' which, whilst still enjoyable enough, loses something by not fully exploring the spooky stretched out randomness and confusion of the original. It can be done that way live, I've heard it, but tonight it has been reworked to fit in with a more muscular set. No problems with getting 'Rite Place' to fit the mood, it eases right in and by now only the zombies aren't bopping.
In case you're wondering - 'Occapella'" is a show case for Jon Cleary, nice enough but a lighter thing than the Dr's own fare. It ushers in the half of the set given over more to the new material. 'Big Shot' is a superb loping boast of a song - whilst 'Revolution' is a soul power rallying cry to not accept the hidden agendas of the powerful - "KKK, CIA, all playing in the same game" . Right on, Dr John, right on. And when you balance the new stuff against the older then it is not found lacking. This is a great set, a near perfect set, Dr John knows what he is doing. 'Goin' Back' offers an opportunity for the band members to take a solo apiece, and unfair as it may be to single out one player over another I'm willin' to say that the trombone was epic - sparring with the front rows of the audience, guitar was superb as it had been all night and drums - I know drum solos aren't everyone's thing but this one for pure power could persuade the most grievous doubter.
It’s hard to imagine any fan of Dr John being disappointed by an encore of 'Such a nite' - and it's as low down and easy breezy as it should be, and begs the question "is it wrong to steal your best friends girl if she asks you to?". These are the depths of philosophy we are required to measure, but, ah, "If I don't do it then somebody else will" is an answer that the greatest logician could not argue with.
This band delivers, and by now Dr John is his persona - the nite tripper, the jazz aficionado, the rock and roller, the social commentator. What a band, what a night. Same again tomorrow? Well, we'll see.
- Locked Down
- Soulful Warrior
- I'll be glad when you're dead, you rascal you
- Walk on Gilded Splinters
- Rite Place
- Loop Garou
- Big Shot
- Ice Age
- Food 4 Thot
- St. James Infirmary
- Do you call that a buddy?
- Goin' Back
- Big Chief
- Such a Nite