review (performance)

Leon Chavis and the Zydeco Flames played last night (June 3, 2010) at Rock ‘N’ Bowl in New Orleans, LA.  I got there at 8:30 p.m., just before the first number to a fair crowd.  Chavis is a young man, and the band consisted of electric guitar and bass, keyboards, rubboard and drums, besides Chavis on accordion.  During the evening he played primarily Cajun accordion but switched to a double-row for a couple of songs.  At least one person thought he was Boozoo‘s son and another, grandson.  I didn’t talk to him and haven’t found out since.  He played and sang well, even switching to keyboard at about 11:15 p.m., right before I left.  The repertoire was pretty standard, with old and new songs, including the obligatory Beau Jocque “Cornbread.”  And he played two waltzes!  Many of the younger guys don’t know even one.  There wasn’t much in French, unfortunately.  Geno Delafose is still king of French zydeco.  During one song I caught a bar or two of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher;” many zydeco artists love to incorporate r&b and reggae. Dig this recent photo of Chavis.  The rubboard player and Chavis swapped vocal chores.  It was a solid performance, pleasing the crowd, which kept getting larger and larger.  At one point a bus disgorged its cargo of new Tulane University students, who had their own dance styles.   There was no break–at least until I left.  That’s not unusual, but must be hard on the band!  They were kind enough to send me home with their CD, The Heat Is On.  It’s got 12 cuts of all original songs.  Thanks!

This video isn’t the best quality, but it does introduce each band member: 


BeauSoleil closed out the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo yesterday in New Orleans.  They were joined by Tab Benoit, and a final jam with George Porter, Jr. (of the Meters) and other musicians.  The set ran a little over an hour, and was punctuated with numerous exhortations and caustic comments about the BP oil spill, currently fouling Louisiana waters and marshes.  BeauSoleil consists of Michael Doucet on violin and vocals, his brother David Doucet on guitar, Jimmy Breaux on accordions, Billy Ware on percussion, Tommy Alessi on drums, and the newest member, Mitchell Reed on bass and violin.  BeauSoleil recorded many albums with Sonny Landreth on electric guitar, before he left the group a few years ago.  Landreth didn’t sing with BeauSoleil, and his guitar work did not dominate the band’s sound.  BeauSoleil has always seemed to work to balance the members contributions.  Michael Doucet leads on violin but there’s always solos from the rest of the band.   Benoit joined the group a little more than halfway through the 75 minute set.  The songs he played were not Cajun standards, and I assume they were his originals.  The set list included:

  • Newz Reel (from their Grammy-winning CD L’Amour ou La Folie)
  • Donnez-moi Pauline (Give me Pauline)
  • Sud de la Louisiane (The South of Louisiana, Alex Broussard song about the wonderful animal life in Louisiana, preceded by negative comments from Michael Doucet about the fouling of Louisiana by BP)
  • I spent all my money loving you (Bobby Charles song, on their CD Alligator Purse, performed differently from the CD, e.g., no organ)
  • L’Ouragon (The Hurricane, from the CD La Danse de la vie)
  • The Problem (from Alligator Purse, with the chorus “the man at the top has got to go.”)
  • Tab Benoit joined band for a few songs, including:
  • My bucket’s got a hole in it (Hank Williams)
  • Not Fade Away/Iko Iko (big final jam with Porter, etc., from their CD Bayou Cadillac)

My photos of the day are now available on flickr.

BeauSoleil was in fine form as usual.  Michael Doucet performed his usual wonderful violin parts, swooping up and down the scale, always in perfect rhythm.  Mitchell Reed joined BeauSoleil before the 2009 Jazz Fest, primarily on bass, but often playing twin fiddles with Doucet, always a real treat.  Doucet used two beautiful violins on stage; some photos of them are in the group above.  You can see them facing one another, bowing away furiously, to the delight of the crowd.  David Doucet took a few acoustic guitar solos, though fewer than I recall in other BeauSoleil performances.  Ware and Alessi provided rock steady percussion backup.  And Jimmy Breaux tore it up with his accordion playing, using both Cajun (diatonic) and double-row accordions.  Benoit was not just another Sonny Landreth, not that it would be a bad thing!  He played his own rock style, rather than Landreth’s blues slide style.  He sang several songs, which I did not recognize, so I assume they are his originals.

Besides Michael Doucet’s comments throughout were all about the terrible situation that BP has caused and state and federal governments have exacerbated.   Benoit made an impassioned please before the final song, asking everyone to get involved and to find out the facts for themselves, cautioning the crowd not to believe BP.  This was the most political performance I’ve seen from BeauSoleil.  Benoit is well known as a proponent of coastal restoration, with his free Voice of the Wetlands Festival, founded 2004, in October.

  Though the 2008 election’s over, this is still a great song, performed live at a dance.  The credits say that’s Christine Balfa on acoustic guitar, her husband Dirk Powell on electric guitar and vocals, Corey “L’il Pop” Ledet on Cajun accordion, and Zydeco Joe Mouton on rubboard.  Also credited are Jeffrey Broussard and Linzay Young.  Can’t tell if it’s the Jeffrey Broussard formerly of Zydeco Force and currently of Jeffrey Broussard and the Creole Cowboys on drums.  Powell and Balfa are the backbone of the group Balfa Toujours, and Christine is part of the mostly-women band Bonsoir, Catin.  “Oui on peut” is Cajun French for “Yes we can,” the Obama campaign slogan.  There are English subtitles.  The guy in plaid shirt and straw cowboy hat looks familiar.

Steve Riley on stage

Steve Riley on stage

Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys played the Third Cajun Zydeco Festival on June 13, 2009 in New Orleans.  As usual, the performance was a blast.  They kept it simple, with Riley on fiddle and diatonic accordion only, and David Greely on fiddle, no sax.  The stage was quite small and in an area where people could only congregate to the front (about 30 feet) or to the side (down a long pedestrian walkway), an odd spot, but one where the French Market routinely stages performances, just not for bands with this much of a fan base.  The crowd sang along with “Bon reve.”  It was hot, hot, but a few breezes off the Mississippi helped keep the dancers from complete apoplexy.

The Third Cajun Zydeco Festival is now history.  Held in the French Quarter of New Orleans, this is an offshoot of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.  Basically, the Fest makes big bucks, which is spends on educational programs and small-scale festivals in New Orleans.  (So keep coming, everyone!)  There were two stages, and I hung out at one, hearing Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, Lil’ Nathan and the Zydeco Big Timers (or MySpace), and Zachary Richard down by the river, in Woldenberg Park.  Lil’ Nathan is the son of Nathan Williams, of Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas.   The crowd loved them, and there was dancing, even though the stage was in an L-shaped intersection of two pedestrian walkways in the French Market.  Tourists danced at the front, regulars to the side.  Besides Lil’ Nathan on accordions (diatonic, triple-row and piano-key), he also played electric keyboards; there were a rubboard player, five-string bass player, electric guitarist, and drummer.  They played many covers and original songs, mixing old and new effectively.   The stage faced the afternoon sun, making it difficult for the musicians and photography less effective.  “Zydeco boogalo0” is one of my favorite songs, but their version was danceable but somewhat tepid.  Clifton Chenier’s “Everybody calls me crazy” on the piano-key accordion was a big hit, as was Beau Jocque’s “Cornbread.”  I enjoyed their version of Van Morrison’s “Crazy love,” but I’m a sucker for Van Morrison songs, no matter who plays them.  River breezes helped keep the 90 degree heat and high humidity in check.  June’s a risky month for a festival in New Orleans, but this one, which also celebrates the Creole tomato and Louisiana seafood, seems destined to continue.

“The incomparable, the dynamic, Mr. Accordion,” Clifton Chenier cuttin’ it up live at Jazz Fest 1977 playing “I’m a hog for you” with the incredible blind John Hart on saxophone, brother Cleveland Chenier on rubboard, Buckwheat Zydeco on keyboard, and others.  This is less than ten years after the Jazz Fest moved to the Fairgrounds, when it was still a local festival.  Tight band and great song.  This is Clifton at the top of his form, personalized accordion, pink suit and leather headband.  He passed away Dec. 12, 1987.