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Dr John live in Vicar Street
New Orleans legend intrigues but fails to excite...
Paul O'Mahony, 10 Aug 2012
In his colourful and eventful autobiography, Under a Hoodoo Moon, Mac Rebennack aka Dr John entrances the reader with stories of an extraordinary life filled with an often mind-boggling gumbo of music, drugs, guns, and ‘associates’ whose very names and aliases seem to epitomise the cultural and spiritual mix, and fine humour, of his hometown New Orleans.
So, then, audience expectations are founded on many things, not just a song back catalogue, and the fact that some artists burn the candle at both ends and live to tell the tale in print feeds very much into their reputation, credibility and perceived coolness. This truism has applied since rock immemorial and is very much reflected in tonight’s packed-out gig, with the band providing the backing track to Dr John’s slow, theatrical entrance and exit.
Yet, while you just can’t buy that kind of charisma and presence, it will ultimately come back to the bread and butter. Alas, on that score it was hard not to feel disappointed by a curiously under-whelming performance that failed to ignite.
Adding to that sense of let-down was the fact that this was coming on the back of the critical and commercial success of the doctor’s latest release, ‘Locked Down’ (Nonesuch), a superb collaboration with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and one which sees the one-time Night Tripper re-connecting brilliantly with the Afro-Latin rhythmic underbelly of his early and mid-period blend of funk, jazz, blues, swamp rock and vintage R&B. ‘Revolution’, ‘Big Shot’, and the obscenely funky off-beat ‘Ice Age’ provide outstanding highlights tonight, as do time-honoured original classics like ‘Right Place, Wrong Time’ and ‘Such A Night’.
The set, though, is an odd one by his recent standards, with no room for stonewall classics like 'Walk On Guilded Splinters', 'My Indian Red', 'Going Back To New Orleans', or 'Dream Warrior'. Instead, we get covers of 'Makin’ Whoopee' and 'Cotton Fields'.
Rebennack’s distinctive gravelly vocals and wonderful dexterity in frequently playing Farfisa and piano simultaneously are propelled along by the highly accomplished groove of The Lower 911, whose trombonist Sarah Morrow makes a series of successful forays to enliven the audience, unlike the main man himself who makes little attempt to similarly engage or connect, even verbally, with a willing house. You couldn't help but think that a simple non-cheesy reference to the Irish ancestry he mentions in his book might have done the trick. Plenty of gris-gris, then, but no magic.