Monday, April 16, 2012

Village Voice: Dr. John Parades Through The Musical Legacy Of New Orleans

Jack Vartoogian/BAM
Dr. John: Funky But It's Nu Awlins
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Thursday, April 12

Better than: Getting your tax return in on time.

By the third week of "Insides Out," Dr. John's residency at the Brooklyn Academy might have been dubbed "Occupy Howard Gilman Auditorium." The vibe at this high-culture outpost had been that powerfully transformed through a participatory democracy not often witnessed at supposed pop-star showcases. On Thursday night, protest was in the air—actually, it seemed more like junior-high misbehavior during assembly period when boos and hisses overtook a representative from JPMorgan Chase, the fourth pre-concert podium speaker on hand to celebrate BAM's 150th anniversary (this was also board gala night). Such speechifying wasn't the best of plans; still, BAM's programming of "Insides Out" was starting to look like a brilliant stroke.

In his final and best installment, "Funky But It's Nu Awlins," Dr. John teased strands of legacy that have long informed his sound--inherited and hard-earned wealth and the dividends thereof, most of which predated BAM's creation and Wall Street's largesse. He and his cast of guest stars, all drawn from his hometown, required no podium, just some keyboards, guitars, a rhythm section and horns. They didn't speechify; they testified. They drew upon the wily R&B, funk, and jazz traditions in which they're all invested, as well as a shared nest egg of brass-band-led funeral and parade tradition and inscrutable Mardi Gras Indian culture--the stuff that imbues their music with something distinct: Funky, yeah, but it's Nu Awlins. (Change the emphasis in that concert title a bit, add a "t," and you get "funky butt," a reference to the Buddy Bolden tune and the former North Rampart Street club once co-owned by trombonist "Big Sam" Williams, once a member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band; or just to your own ass when properly motivated.)

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