Words by: Andrew Bruss | Images by: Scott Fleishman
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival :: 04.27.12-04.29.12 :: Fair Grounds :: New Orleans, LA
Photo gallery below review!
Between the food, the booze, and tunes crafted by American icons, the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival masterfully displayed to attendees, and the world, just how much New Orleans has contributed to the cultural conversation for generations.
The festival has done a good job of booking a lineup that hosts an overwhelming majority of artists from Louisiana while securing enough big names to ensure satisfying attendance figures.
Jambase was on-site, hopping from stage to stage, to get a feel for who gave the best performances and what fell flat.
The Boss: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band closed out the weekend with nearly three-hour performance that was light on the hits and heavy on the jazzy-side of things. The Boss brought out Dr. John to play an old R&B standard called “Something You Got,” following a handful of tunes he’d performed off his latest studio release, Wrecking Ball. “My City of Ruins” served as a tribute to the victims of Katrina, 9/11, E Street big man Clarence Clemons, and anyone the audience had lost who the boss said were with us as ghosts. For audience members who were hoping to hear more of a hits filled set, the Boss killed it with an encore of “Born to Run,” “Dancin in the Dark,” “10th Avenue Freeze Out” and “Rocky Ground.”
|Bruce Springsteen by Scott Fleishman|
Bon Iver: To many, this may be considered blasphemy, but Bon Iver blew Springsteen out of the water. It was hands down the most powerful performance of the weekend and everyone who was in attendance seemed to agree. While The Beach Boys played a hits-filled set across the fair grounds on Friday, Justin Vernon and his recently expanded ensemble took their audience to a whole other place. New tracks like “Holocene” and earlier tunes like “Skinny Love” gave the audience a rare experience where everyone felt as one. The set closed with “The Wolves (Act I and II)” and the audience yelling along during the song’s climax may have been the loudest any crowd got during the entire weekend. Vernon’s tunes summon more emotions at once than any current recording artist around. During his show couples kissed, newcomers engaged, and complete strangers danced in each other’s arms. Everyone wore their heart on their sleeve, and to have been at this show and not be utterly moved would be to not have a soul.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Petty is one of the greatest American songwriters of the late 20th century and his first performance at Jazz Fest did not disappoint. While the middle chunk of the set seemed to give guitarist Mike Campbell a little too much spotlight, tunes like “Free Fallin” are the definition of timeless, and his one-two punch of “Last Dance With Mary Jane” into “American Girl,” might have been the best two songs performed together the whole weekend.
|Tom Petty by Scott Fleishman|
Chuck Leavell & Friends: Leavell kicked off his celebratory set with a cover of “Statesboro Blues” and didn’t let up for over an hour. Leavell’s been playing keys for acts ranging from Eric Clapton and The Allman Brothers to The Rolling Stones, so seeing him front a group was a real treat. His band included the boys from Bonerama, and Leavell’s performance Friday in the blues tent acted as a history lesson on the genre. Seeing him work the crowd from the front of the stage really gave his audience an appreciation of how much he has learned to hold back when playing second fiddle to Mick and Keith.
Cee Lo Green: This set was a mess from the start. His work as half of Gnarls Barkley made him a star, “Fuck You” sealed the deal, and now his role on NBC’s The Voice has made him a household name. These are all good reasons why he should not have been stuck on the side stage. The audience was so large it literally overflowed into other stage areas, resulting in terrible views and even worse sound. As for his performance, he spent the end of it sitting down because he can’t even stay on his feet. Based on his mishaps at other festivals, the promoters of Jazz Fest should have known better than to rely on someone with a reputation for being inherently unreliable.
|Cee-Lo by Scott Fleishman|
Bruce Springsteen’s Sound: The show was great but the sound was poor. The night before, Tom Petty performed on the same stage during the same time slot and had crystal clear acoustics. It may be a result of the size of his band, but the Boss’ set sounded muffled and was laden with feedback.
Dr John: It may be bad form to give Mac Rebennack poor marks in his own town but a half-assed show is a half-assed show. The Night Tripper’s pre-Springsteen slot featured a few tunes off his incredible new album, Locked Down, as well as old hits like “Right Place Wrong Time,” but that didn’t save his set from feeling phoned in and uninspired. Even though seeing him sit in with Springsteen was watching history unfold at no point during his Fair Ground appearance did he seem interested in being there.
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