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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Tipitina’s, New Orleans, September 10th 2006
A Cajun concertina
It’s Saturday night in New Orleans and outside our restaurant the street is bustling, partly due to the three-piece Cajun band who are playing on the pavement, sorry, sidewalk. It’s a pleasing contrast to the almost deserted streets we’ve encountered for most of the day (the bustling boozy and blowsy Bourbon Street notwithstanding); a still mostly boarded-up Canal Street, a desolate river front, a tourist paddle steamer that was busy enough to rival the Marie Celeste, and just beyond the Quarter the devastated suburbs of the Lower Ninth and St Bernard, still waiting for around 80 per cent of their populations to return. But our dinner is wonderful, and the band take ten minutes to tour the restaurant, and tell the story of how Hank Williams stole the tune for Jambalaya from a French Cajun song about emigrating to Texas (which is ironically where much of the City’s population are now). Musicology, no requests for tips, and echoing everyone we spoke to, a heartfelt ‘thanks for coming down here folks’. As someone told us a few days later, “Well, we’re back on our feet, but we’re still stumblin’”
No one is stumbling at the world famous Tipitina’s (well, not when we arrive), the club founded by Professor Longhair, named after his 1953 chart success. It’s a barn of a place, with a high ceiling and balcony overlooking a capacious stage. But the place fills up quickly with a mostly youngish, mostly local, mostly polite and friendly and mostly white crowd. First on stage are Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, from Asheville in North Carolina, a versatile seven-piece band who are for the most part far more entertaining than their name might suggest (yes, I know it’s ironic, but I was once told that Americans ‘don’t do ironic’). It’s their first time in New Orleans and they’re as pleased to be here as we are. Actually there are almost eight of them as they have an occasional singer, Suzanna Baum, who I guess might be somebody’s girlfriend, but who, to be frank, adds little to the action on stage.
Greg Hollowell and Derrick Johnson ( yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band)
Far more interesting is Lowell George school guitarist John Paul Miller, the Bootsy Collins-obsessed bass and trombone player Al Al Ingram (nice hat Al Al!) and the accomplished two man brass section of trombonist Derrick Johnson and saxophonist Greg Hollowell, who looked as though he was bunking off from accountancy school and was worried he might get found out. Miller, Ingram, guitarist Grady Gilbert and percussionist, vocalist and guitarist Josh Phillips (a dead ringer for John Belushi in his sloppy beach pants and ‘California’ hat) swap instruments at a bewildering rate and display a serious proficiency on everything they play – despite appearances to the contrary this is sophisticated stuff. The result is apparently ‘Bounce Music’ – now it may be lacking in substance (just how many songs about ‘Booty’ can you have?), but it’s fierce, funky, infectious and fun. Apparently they’ve been working for three years with only a home-made live album to show for it – well compared to much of the dross we get served up on plastic these days they deserve better – and should you get the chance, well go and see them.
The Rebirth Brass Band
You might have thought that the Rebirth Brass Band had been named to capture this particular moment in the City’s history – in fact they were founded in 1983 by still present tuba player Philip Frazier, whose solid playing gives the band the firm foundation on which it builds a remarkably pulsating and funky (sorry – but it is New Orleans) groove. Think the Dirty Dozen Brass Band with a bit more attitude, a little bit more aggression. Apparently all of the band were forced to leave the city after the storm and floods but they’ve slowly drifted back – and I’ve no doubt their name now has added meaning for them all. They take the stage ponderously in ones and twos – we have the eight man version of the band - weaving their way through a forest of microphones before, about ten minutes later, they’re all finally in place. Tuba, bass and snare drum to the rear, two trombones, two trumpets and saxophone. Quite why they needed the mikes I don’t know – it’s the sort of loud that would make Motorhead’s Lemmy weep with delight, and my ears are ringing brass band the following morning.
I wouldn’t even begin to concoct a set list – it was almost too noisy to hear – but I did recognise ‘It’s all over now’, “I feel like funkin’ it up’, ‘You don’t want to go to war’ and ‘Fever’ – but don’t quote me on that. This was less about knowing the tunes than feeling the music, which was hard not to do with such a pulsating rhythm section and monstrously visceral playing, particularly from trumpeters Glen Andrews and the showboating Derrick Shezbie (who apparently joined the band when he was only ten). Party music, party time. The crowd loved it.
Our taxi driver was happy to see us too. He reckoned there were only about fifteen per cent of the city’s cabs in operation – and not too much business to go after. He’d gone to his brother’s place in New York but returned to fix up his home and work. He was angry too – although it wasn’t quite clear who with, maybe everyone – the Mayor, the Governor, the President, the insurance companies, drug dealers and prostitutes. But he showed a stoic defiance, not least to the police car that he nearly hit after riding a red light – “Fuck you, fuck you” he shouted at the top of his voice (waking half the cab up). Maybe that’s what the city needs. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Derrick Shezbie
(The Rebirth Brass Band)

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