This was the last weekend of Dr. John’s residency at BAM – this weekend the focus was the music of New Orleans. I got there just before showtime and the lobby was crowded. This time there was an art exhibit and I took a look after the show but nothing really stood out for me.
The opera house was crowded and you could feel the excitement. One of the guest performers was Irma Thomas and I think everyone was there to see her. From the balcony I could see a set of stairs going up onto the stage and I was hoping…hoping…and yes! You could hear the music coming from the back of the theater and there was Dr. John wearing his purple suit and leading the second line with his voodoo walking stick in hand. Behind him was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Dr. John’s band – Alonzo Bowens (tenor saxophone), Bobby Campo (trumpet), Ronnie Cuber (baritone saxophone), Sarah Morrow (trombone), and Raymond Weber (drums) beating the bass drum. On stage already playing were the rest of his band – Kenneth Williams (percussion), John Fohl (guitar), and David Barard (bass). Also joining the parade were some friends who came out at the end of the show to dance on stage and some of the night’s performers.
Dr. John sat at the grand piano and Davell Crawford (with magenta hair) joined him on organ for a few songs along with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Dr. John’s band. There were a few prayer candles on stage but fewer than the previous weekend. And the skull was sitting on the organ.
Then the Dirty Dozen and Crawford left the stage and Tami Lynn joined Dr. John for “Iko Iko.” Big Chief Donald Harrison (saxophone), who many people know from Treme, joined Dr. John for a few songs and he danced and hopped across the stage during the solos. Next it was Ivan Neville on the organ with Dr. John. Tami Lynn came out again to do a bluesy jazz song.
It was a whirlwind of music that didn’t stop long enough to let you catch your breath. Funky bottoms, blues high notes, with jazz interwoven in Dr. John’s great New Orleans-style.
Trumpet player Nicholas Payton came out and just blew everyone away. He hit high notes that I didn’t even know existed. His two songs were a highlight of the night. We heard Dr. John’s funkified “St. James Infirmary,” which had everyone dancing in their seats.
Finally Irma Thomas came out. As she explained, while she was leaning against the piano, she had just had knee replacement and she didn’t want to be seen with a cane so she had help bringing her to her spot. She was wearing a beautiful black sequin dress and very sparkly earrings. She is a star. Unfortunately we only got two songs from her – “Wish Someone Would Care” and “You Can Have My Husband (But Please Don’t Mess with My Man).” But two songs from Miss Thomas is worth the price of admission.
Dr. John finished up with “Right Place, Wrong Time” and then the Dirty Dozen came back out to have us dance and sing along to the Rolling Stones’ “It’s All Over Now.” Everyone (except Thomas) was on stage for the finale, “Big Chief” with the audience singing “Burn it down, burn it down” as Dr. John danced off stage.
This review has a setlist from the Thursday night show. It looks like it might be slightly different from what I saw.
While leaving the opera house the crowd outside noticed a bicycle built for two that was over six feet high. The woman got on the back seat and the guy walked quickly while holding the handlebars, which were way above his head, and then he just hopped up and was on the bike and they rode off. Everyone on sidewalk applauded. It was one of those moments that a magical night just seems to conjure up.
By Carene Lydia Lopez