in performance: dr. john and the lower 911

dr. john performed last night at the kentucky theatre.

dr. john performed last night at the kentucky theatre.

It didn’t initially have the makings of Mardi Gras. In fact, the party Dr. John held last night at the Kentucky Theatre seemed a fairly relaxed affair with the veteran New Orleans pianist known more informally as Mac Rebennack opening Crescent City funk, pop and roll up to a far larger pop environment.

For the diehards of New Orleans soul, there was Rebennack’s famed cover of Professor Longhair’s piano party anthem Tipitina and its deep, rumbling keyboard whimsy. Equally tasty was the Meters-style funk of the 1973 Dr. John original I Been Hoodooed.

But Rebennack, dressed in a purple suit, hat and shades, also had a flair for pop standards like Candy and Makin’ Whoopee. He additionally discovered a fun intersection for past pop and jazz generations with his 1992 version of Do You Call That a Buddy? – a Louis Jordan hit long ago reimagined by Louis Armstrong.

From there, the Leadbelly staple Goodnight Irene became a showcase for swing while My People Need a Second Line was served as a bittersweet requiem for the dead lost in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There was also an unexpected nod to Dr. John’s “night-tripping” music of the late ‘60s with Mama Roux, although the tune dealt less last night with gris-gris mysticism than it did with efficient, modern pop soul charm.

Through it all, the Mardi Gras spirit in the audience was limited to a few dancers in the aisles waving handkerchiefs. Then the spiritual jubilation of Lay My Burden Down bled into the signature 1973 hit Right Place Wrong Time. That, in turn, slid straight into the New Orleans carnival staple Big Chief.

Then, in the middle of the crowd, a black umbrella popped open and began to twirl as an audience content on sitting politely began to stand and groove. Sure, the umbrella was a necessity of the evening, given the summer thunderstorms raging outside. But inside, it was a catalyst – the firing pin of a subtle, seasoned Mardi Gras parade with the good Dr. John as its uncontested big chief.

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