Jazz Fest After Dark :: 05.03.12-05.06.12 :: New Orleans, LA
There is nothing in the world like New Orleans annual Jazz & Heritage Festival, a veritable smorgasbord of music, culture, food, costume, people and energy, native to the Crescent City but descended upon by people from the four corners of the globe, The numerous events that take place at night (and well into the morning) throughout the duration of the Fest are of equal interest to many festival-goers. In 2012, this was no different, where after-dark voodoo madness restored the authentic NOLA vibe to the glorious Jazz Fest scene.
Those who have been to Jazz Fest know that it’s extremely difficult to decide what shows to see. Head-to-head, there is simply too much incredible music and rare treats to indulge in over the course of ten days. Therefore, there will be plenty of fantastic music NOT covered in this dusk til’ dawn highlights selection. This is simply one boy’s second weekend journey to the musical Mecca that is Jazz Fest…After Dark.
The Megalomanics Ball took place at Howlin’ Wolf, and presented several affiliated acts defined by their obtuse weirdness. Early, the Stanton Moore Trio provided the closest semblance to normalcy. One highlight of the weekend saw Marco Benevento play a solo set midway through the Ball. Covering Elton John, My Morning Jacket, as well as departure takes on his own catalog, Benevento’s act was a lovely divergence. The Dead Kenny G’s then took stage and tore through their new record Gorelick; thrashing tunes like “Beer”, “Daddy Issues” and “Punk Rock Girlfriend,” which displayed the typically zany side of Mike Dillon and Skerik, the latter of whom barked syllables into his distorted saxophone mic.
After set from the Wyllys & The NY Hustler Ensemble that featured a sit-in from Umphrey’s McGee’s Joel Cummins and great contributions from femme fatale horn players Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman, the Bear Creek All-Stars sets started after 2 am deep in the Quarter at One Eyed Jacks. A collection of musicians who perform annually at the Florida festival of the same name, the All-Stars delivered a loose, high-energy throwdown that was the biggest and best “Super-Jam” of the week. Curated by Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds and George Porter Jr., the stage was a rotating cast of heavy hitters jamming on funk staples for nearly four hours. The likes of Eric Krasno, Michael Wooten (guitar), Adam Deitch and Nikki Glaspie (drums), Nigel Hall and Ivan Neville, The Shady Horns, Kirk Joseph, Alecia Chakour, Roosevelt Collier and several others raged through about a dozen crucial songs, including “He Bite Me”, “The Chicken” and a rousing “Piece of My Heart” that had Chakour belting to the heavens. While the musicians onstage got it on, others waited patiently in the wings for their turn to get in on the jam. Let’s hope this event becomes an annual thing because, only in its second year, it’s already a “can’t miss” event at Jazz Fest.
Nigel Hall Band took the stage second, ardently making a case for their own marquee with a dynamite performance drenched in soul and sensation. Songstress Alecia Chakour was mesmeric; her vocals a thrilling foil to Nigel’s Rhodes and harmonies (Chakour and Hall are kindred spirits in the Warren Haynes Band). Guitarist Adam “Shmeans” Smirnoff delivered the first of his several convincing Les Paul demonstrations throughout Jazz Fest. At this point, it’s no secret: Hall is one helluva frontman, rollicking behind the keys, owning the stage whilst making a connection. When he appeared with Soulive to lead vigorous romps through a Godfather medley that segued into Soulive’s massive JB’s reverence “Too Much”, Nigel stirred the crowd into a frenzied state. The Shady Horns and their rotating cast of friends punched and popped the grooves persistently. Soulive welcomed Ivan Neville’s distinctive NOLA vocal for a roaring up-tempo take on “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”; Big Chief and native saxophone hero Donald Harrison treated a fantastic alto workout. Soulive has mastered the art of grown and sexy, rare and groovin’, oozing Manhattan aural opulence.
Lettuce was driven by the punishing rhythm section of drummer Adam Deitch and bassist E.D. “Jesus” Coomes, the dynamic duo pushing the low end envelope with pounding beats and neck snapping breaks while the Shady Horns blasted along. Tenor man Ryan Zoidis is captain of the brass troupe and lead the charge, along with James Casey and, late in the set, Big Sam Williams on trombone. Eric Krasno provided wailing hollow-body guitar leads atop nifty Neal Evans’ organ, Rhodes and synth. The new material shone brightest, from the dankest in dub arkology to the meanest freak show funk. In between, Shmeans commanded leviathan riffage that called upon Black Sabbath tones and palm muted chunkiness equal parts Tony Iommi and Tom Morello – the funkiest doom metal dirge. The band embalmed with a heaviness previously unheard, a chuggin’, mean-muggin’ clomp that exploded into frenetic, polyrhythmic bombast. A lesson in organic boom-bap, deep dynamics defined the funk of “Madison Square,” where Nigel Hall manifested a raucous go-go energy as Nikki Glaspie jumped on percussion for the always-undeniable “Making My Way Back Home (Chocolate City).” To close their assiduous assault, Krasno lent his axe to NOLA compatriot Ian Neville for their now- patented take on Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” In a funky instant, the mothership had landed, but not before a murderous display from a krewe comprised of the dirtiest players in the game.
“Miles Davis was an innovator. John Coltrane was an Innovator…Kirk Joseph is an innovator and has marched the tuba and New Orleans brass band music into the 21st century.”
Bayou Rendevous is an annual jam that reinvents itself each year. This one saw a conglomerate dubbed the New Orleans All Stars, featuring Anders Osborne, Ivan Neville, Johnny Vidacovich, Theresa Andersson and Nick Daniels get it on for over two hours. Their set was loose, relaxed, and atmospheric, oozing NOLA harmonies and melodies with that undeniable Second-line syncopated groove. The group didn’t stress tight changes or heavily-shedded tunes, yet Mississippi River magic was happening all night – a jam session in the truest sense. Osborne and Andersson originally moved to New Orleans from Sweden in 1990 to play music together in this city, and 22 years later they shared a stage to a near capacity Howlin’ Wolf, people hanging on their every note with wide ears and open hearts. Watching them play off of each other – as they have done countless times – was terrific to witness, like when Anders would sneak over to sing backup in her microphone until she reminded him of his own microphone over “there”. At midnight, the set hit pause for a surprise moment, a “Happy Birthday” sing-along in honor of Osborne turning 42 (complete with a guitar shaped cake). To celebrate, they performed a song written on the day Anders was born – one he’s been playing since 12-years-old – Neil Young’s “Ohio.”
On both Friday and Saturday nights, the AM Sessions took place at The Parish; the 2 am start times punctuated by the long lines at the box office while people awaited the performers’ arrivals from their various earlier gigs. Helmed by George Porter Jr. and Eric Krasno, each night featured different keyboardists and drummers. Friday welcomed Kraz’s good buddies Adam Deitch and Nigel Hall. Saturday saw Marco Benevento and Johnny Vidocavich. These separate-but-equal, free form, improvisational displays of instrumental mastery were both jolly good times and jaw-dropping performances. Friday’s players lent a NYC-centric approach and execution to the tunes, while Saturday felt like proper NOLA funkification. “Come Fly Away”, “Out in the Country”, and “Leave Me Alone” were go-to numbers for these cagey veterans of the Super Jam format, and Saturday’s “Funkify Your Life” should still be ringing out onto Decatur Street.
The news of Beastie Boy MCA (Adam Yauch) untimely passing fresh in the minds of the Fest massive, a previously planned KDTU tribute to the Beasties went over huge at Tipitina’s. Instrumental takes on classic B-Boy anthems like “Root Down” and “Sure Shot” evoked the most energy and emotion of the evening/morning. A 5 am rumble through “Sabotage” saw the first Fest mosh pit at Tipitina’s in this writer’s ten years attending Jazz Fest. Along with OJ’s frontman lead vocal, within the mayhem lie a sneak peak at Denson’s new hobby – the electric guitar. Like a love doctor should, KD serenaded the people with R&B funk numbers oozing sensuality, calming and soothing the ill communication. When the groove finally settled, the sun was creeping up and Tip’s swaying throng ambled out of the venue in search of shut-eye as the weekend was upon us.
Frenchman Street’s Blue Nile hosted NOLA/NYC supergroup Dr. Klaw, and the quintet would rev up the engines once again in Crescent City/Royal Family tradition. The rhythm section was in command once again as Nick Daniels and Adam Deitch steered the ship to some of the funkiest grooves of the entire weekend. “Lost Rager” is the Klaw theme song, and this one was a monstrous slab of crunk that allowed for a screaming guitar tones from Eric Krasno. “Leave Me Alone” was yet again masterful, as was the guest spot from Dap-Kings alto-man Cheme Gastellum, who blew the night away up front. The dual-city crush-crew was still killing it when we made the call to head over to the Wolf for a slice of NOLA history.
The hour was getting late and the old age on stage was starting to show. During set closer “Ain’t No Use”, one could observe the toll that age and disease has taken on Art Neville’s vocals. However, the band charged through the verses, picking up steam with every measure. Zigaboo started packing more punches as he could smell the emotion in the air. As the band reached the second coda, Art Neville launched his B3 organ solo skyward filled with force, grace, and energy. George Porter Jr. couldn’t look away, and they exchanged hearty smiles before the song was done. Like an aging boxing champ, against the ropes in the twilight of his career, the original Meters rose to the occasion and fought their way back to the center of the ring, and delivered a knockout blow to any and all competition during “Ain’t No Use”. Indeed it was a sight to behold.
The Robert Walter Trio was a special event at the Blue Nile, appearing after Dr. Klaw and reuniting 20th Congress compadres Walter and Gastellum, flanked by Simon Lott on drums and Will Bernard on guitar. Grant Green’s immortal “Flood in Franklin Park” was the highlight as the troupe made up for lost time with spirited runs through boogoaloo grooves once familiar.
Galactic proceeded to tear down Tipitina’s in atypical fashion, plowing through their now-deep catalog with punked-up energy and reckless abandon. Featuring tunes from their excellent NOLA-centric recent albums Carnivale Electros and 2010’s Ya Ka May, the hometown heroes called upon local stalwarts like Al “Carnival Time” Johnson and Sasha Masakowski to drive their unique sonic gumbo home. A unique pairing of “Ash Wednesday Sunrise” and a mammoth “Cult of Personality” featuring Living Colour’s Corey Glover (who sang many songs with the band) illustrated the diverse and powerful emotion behind 2012 Galactic’s sound.
Dumpstaphunk’s annual Tipitina’s Fest closeout was one to behold. Aside from hard and heavy workouts on material from both their albums, the most talked about sit-in of the festival also happened on its last night. Dumpstaphunk welcomed Jazz Fest royalty in the The Neville Brothers, offering a full hour long set with their guests, wowing the packed room as the elder statesman tackled the wee hours with aplomb. Other guests included the inimitable Ani DiFranco, Skerik, and a full horn section to upgrade the funk levels dramatically.
The final show for Jazz Fest 2012 was a double bill of the Stanton Moore Trio and Frequinox at DBA on Frenchman St. After Moore’s set, Freqiunox rallied the troops for a two-plus hour workout. Saxophonist Donald Harrison led the charge, while Walter, Moore, Rob Mercurio and Will Bernard tightened the screws behind him, as the quintet pushed revelers toward the Fest finish line in true DBA fashion. People were clearly winded at this late hour on the last night, but Frequinox was undeterred, raging up-tempo boogoaloo and funk calisthenics til nearly 6 am, giving Jazz Festers one more gig to rave about until we come together to do it all again in 2013. One thing about Jazz Fest is that it never gets old, and familiar faces, songs, and that undeniable energy keeps us all coming back year after year. Le bon temps rouler!
JamBase | Fested
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