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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 

 

DR JOHN AND THE LOWER 911
Cabot Hall, Canary Wharf, London, 4th May 2006

God damn! It’s hot, humid and sticky. In the Big Easy it’s 28 degrees. But we’re not in Bourbon Street, we’re in Canary Wharf, London’s city within a city, its monument to mendacity, where it’s just as hot. And as if summer has arrived at a stroke all the City Boys and their City Girls have spilled out onto the walkways, lagers in hand, blindly blocking the path of pedestrians as they excitedly talk about the deals and doings of the day. Inside Cabot Hall, surely one of London’s weirdest venues (a couple of years ago The Photographer saw the Alabama 3 here – now how weird is that?) the burly security guards are bristling, arms crossed in that most aggressive British fashion, over their beefy chests. I imagine they spend most of their day somewhere underground, far beneath these towering buildings, guarding piles of gold, no – loads of money, no - it must be discs of digital transactions of re-mortgaged futures, or whatever the latest worthless thing is that some genius has managed to turn into millions. Anyway, they’re with us now, and they’re not taking shit from no-one.

On stage as support we have the pretty (well, pretty predictable to be honest) Catherine Feeney, another of those American singers with a ‘little girl lost’ voice and a sort of vaguely folky west coastish sort of sound. Her songs, as she tells us, “are all about relationships”. The Photographer, who at the moment could permanently eat a horse – snorts with derision; “for god’s sake”, she says, “why doesn’t someone sing about sausages instead”. An extreme view – but I know what she means. Anyway Catherine loves the UK so much that she’s moved to Norfolk, and she has a band of tractor-boys to prove it. And she has a new album, Hurricane Glass, on its way out in June – so you can make your own mind up.
We’re sitting down at tables, “nightclub style”, but it feels like we’re at a wedding reception – one of those when you don’t really know who’s getting married or why you’ve been invited. We’re waiting to see the good Dr John and his band, the Lower 911, named after a district of New Orleans, which was incidentally one of those worst hit by last year’s Hurricane Katrina. You may remember that we last saw the Doctor playing solo, and featuring his then new album, N’Awlinz Dis Dat or D’udda, which they liked so much in your France Serge, that it was given an Académie Charles Cros 57ème Palmarès award, which apparently is very good. Since then he’s recorded a just released album Mercernary, a tribute to the works of Johnny Mercer (and not too well received by the critics it should be said, but you can download a free track from Mercernary here, and a rapidly recorded fundraiser for various New Orleans charities, Sippiana Hericane. The Doctor chooses to live in New York these days, but his band and entourage are all New Orleaners and flood survivors, and the Mercernary album was recorded there. So it’s hardly any surprise that there’s even more of a New Orleans theme – both celebratory and defiant - to this evening than would normally be the case at one of his gigs.
The band are as hot as the weather, in fact hotter. Drummer Herman Ernest III (who gives us a short master class in New Orleans drumming techniques later in the evening) and bassist David Barard have played together for about twenty years, and have a huge list of notable collaborations in addition to their work with the Doctor – guitarist John Fohl joined the band a few years ago. But they’re tight versatile and funky, and by way of setting out their stall pull off a superb Meters pastiche in the middle of ‘Iko iko’. And they can sing like a church choir (from New Orleans that is, not New Cross). With them we get a bit less of the Doctor’s hugely complex piano playing than we did when he was solo – but he’s also playing a wonderfully battered Hammond B3, so it’s swings and roundabouts really. The Doctor walks onto the stage, cane in hand, like a tripped out old aged pensioner; by his standards he’s in garrulous form, and even treats us to some of his (fairly restrained) ‘voodoo dancing’; you’d be embarrassed if it was your grandfather, but coming from the Doctor it’s sinister, funky and fun.
The set is a very mixed bag drawn from an extensive repertoire including Creole Moon’s ‘One 2am too many’, ‘It don’t mean a thing’, ‘Sweet home New Orleans’ (from Sippinia Hericane), ‘Iko iko’, from Mercernary ‘Save the bones for Henry Jones’ (“at last a song about food”, said The Photographer), ‘Renegade’, ‘Now that you’ve got me’, ‘Right place, wrong time’, ‘When the Saints’, and for an encore a medley (or perhaps I should say gumbo) of New Orleans favourites. By that time the wedding party had really warmed up, the front of the stage was filled with dancing kids (much to the bewilderment of the Doctor) and the security guards had largely given up, so The Photographer went to work. And, at least for a few minutes, you might have thought that the free-spirit of New Orleans had managed to permeate the thick walls of this fortress of ill-gained fortunes. Then the Doctor slowly tripped off stage, the lights went up, the security guards regained their composure and we trooped out into the crowds of still drinking City types, buoyed by the warmth of the musical heart-beat of a city that could benefit enormously from a fraction of the obscene bonuses these braying bankers pay themselves. But hey, that’s the way of the world. You could do worse than buy the Doctor’s Sippinia Hericane, or maybe make a donation to the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate The Photographer)



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