She'll Grow Back: Dr. John

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dr. John

Dr. John (previously here and here) is a N'awlins legend, who started his career as a voodoo hypnotist, turned mainstream funker, then a MOR standard jazz singer, and is currently a more political singer, whose albums include ties to all his previously visited styles.

I saw him in Atlanta two weeks ago, and he was desitively fan-tastic. Sadly, he held the opening slot, so I only got to see him play for a little over an hour (and also, no version of Stag), but he rocked my little world. (My concert companion, as is her wont, went in knowing little about him, but came out converted to fandom.)

Here are five of the songs I loved the most that night. Dr. John's version of "Saint James Infirmary" (like his version of "Goodnight Irene," which I haven't included here) is dirty and funky and swaggeringly rock-and-roll. His solo version (the studio cut includes Rickie Lee Jones) of "Makin' Whoopee" is outstandingly clean and crisp. Though, as it was played with his rock backup band, The Lower 911, it had a hefty backbeat to it as well.

Dr. John's only hit was "Right Place, Wrong Time," a funky 1973 confection that owes as much to its legendary NOLA producer, Allen Touissant, as it does to Mac himself. The live performance was an awful lot of fun -- we were all invited to stand up and dance, but the people waving their arms in the air at every "Whooo"? That was spontaneous.

My favorite Dr. John song is "I Walk On Guilded Splinters," from his first (and IMHO best) solo album, Gris Gris. Live, the rock band had to perform the backing vocals, and time has passed, so the live version didn't sound just like the record, but it was an excellent 8 minutes that also included an extended percussion-only break, along with a quick quote from "Danse Kalinda Da Boom," which pleased me no end.

After his scheduled onstage time was up, the audience refused to let Dr. John leave -- he played an encore of a song from his latest -- and angriest -- album, entitled The City That Care Forgot. "Save Our Wetlands," though it has an overtly enviro-political message, is as far from issue rock as you can get.

Sadly, I had to leave after the set, as I had to work. Dr. John's friends The Neville Brothers were the headliners (he's been working with them a lot lately). I haven't been able to find a review online anywhere, but if they had him return to the stage for a joint song, I'll kick myself all year.

I hadn't been to a live show in a long time (just click the "live shows" tag to see how long), and I'd forgotten how much fun live music is, how the bass kicks me in the belly and the crowd buoys me up. I need to get back in that habit. Thanks to Chris "CD" for prodding me to comb through concert listings for this show!

Dr. John - Saint James Infirmary
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Dr. John and Rickie Lee Jones - Makin' Whoopee
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Dr. John - Right Place, Wrong Time
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Dr. John - I Walk On Guilded Splinters
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Dr. John and Terrance Simien - Save Our Wetlands
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Buy Gris Gris. Do it now.

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