Monday, April 28, 2014

Aaron Neville/Dr John & The Nite Trippers, State Theatre Sydney 24 April 2014

It's mighty close to fifty years since New Orleans session musician and songwriterMac Rebennack relocated to Los Angeles, where he subsequently reinvented himself as Dr. John the Night Tripper. The departure came as the result of substance-related issues with New Orleans District Attorney Big Jim Garrison, who'd set out on a moralistic crusade to clean up the Crescent City and there was a significant musical diaspora that had coagulated around Harold Batiste in Los Angeles.

That new persona was largely an avenue to create an earner to support his fellow exiles, most of whom have passed on, and when you dig back over the man's biography there's a definite feeling that he's lucky to still be among us, and coming up towards age 74 a degree of frailty should come as no surprise.

And, for the first part of an hour-and-a-bit set that frailty seemed fairly evident. The figure who appeared after an enthusiastic introduction shuffled to the keyboards and ran through a couple of fairly obvious suspects (Iko Iko and Didn't He Ramble) before venturing onto the recent discography for a couple of numbers that gradually picked things up. Goodnight Irene, however, rocked quite magnificently, and things definitely took off with a moody reading of Walk on Gilded Splinters.

You didn't quite get the mists rising off the bayou, and the ornate architecture didn't actually start sprouting Spanish moss, but both phenomena weren't far away.

And having kicked things in towards overdrive the vibe continued through In the Right Place, Let the Good Times Roll and Big Chief before Such a Night brought the Doctor's set to an appropriate finish. Took a while to get going, sure, but from midway through things were just fine, and I, for one, was grateful to have been there for it. Walk on Gilded Splinters was just magnificent, one of the very best things I've seen or heard in a long time.

It's also close to fifty years since Aaron Neville's Tell It Like It Is delivered a hit that was, effectively, his bread and butter until the Neville Brothers shot to prominence. The passage of time, one might expect, would have taken its toll on that distinctive vocal tone, and while he's just a tad lower these days the melisma and vibrato are still there.

But it's a voice that needs breathing space, which it gets with the fraternal outfit where the four Neville Brothers share things around in the vocal department. Here, with brother Charles sharing a bit of the spotlight with some moody saxophone and a rather decent bunch of instrumentalists around him there was room for a breather or two, and he actually got to leave the stage during an impressive run through an instrumental that might not have been Caravan, but if it wasn't it was an almost identical twin.

A glance down the set list will reveal an interesting selection from  what has become a reasonably extensive back catalogue, covering most of the obvious bases, very much the Aaron Neville set I'd have wanted to see if I was seeing him once, though I would have liked something else from My True Story in there.

Excellent band, front man in pretty good voice, slightly one paced, perhaps, but that's what he does, and he does it rather well.

Having been to the same venue for Elvis Costello & The Imposters the night before there was an interesting contrast in the demographics. The Dr. John/Aaron Neville crowd was noticeably older, and significantly less cross-generational and given the selections of material probably unlikely to change. One suspects that, should the opportunity to see either of them again in an hour and a bit setting neither set list is going to change all that much, which explains a conclusion that I'm not likely to see either of them again.

One wouldn't anticipate either of them making their way to Townsville or Mackay, and while they're both likely to be back in the country for Bluesfest, opportunities to catch them will depend on what else is going on around whatever times they're playing Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. Given the excuse to be in any of those centres around the time they're playing the possibility is there but it's not as if I'm tempted to see them at every opportunity because I know there's likely to be something very interesting on the set list each night.

Dr John & The Nite Trippers, State Theatre Sydney 24 April 2014
Intro: The Doctor Is In
Iko Iko > Shoo Fly Don't Bother Me
Didn't He Ramble
Kingdom Of Izzness
Getaway > Guitar (St James Infirmary)
I'm the Big Shot
Cotton fields > Goodnight Irene
Walk on Gilded Splinters
In the Right Place
Let the Good Times Roll
Big Chief
Such a Night

Aaron Neville, State Theatre Sydney 24 April 2014
Instrumental intro: Besame Mucho
Stand By Me > Cupid > There Goes My Baby > Chain Gang > Stand By Me
Bird on the Wire > Free as a Bird
Everybody Plays the Fool
I Don't Know Much
Don't Go, Please Stay
Ain't No Sunshine
This Magic Moment
Instrumental: Caravan?
Three Little Birds > Stir It Up
Slow Down
Drift Away
A Change is Gonna Come
Down By the Riverside
Tell It Like It Is
Amazing Grace

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