In New Orleans, A Buffet Of Great Music
In New Orleans, A Buffet Of Great Music
June 22, 2012
By Ann Powers
Gluttony. Yeah, it's a sin. And I don't have the professional excuse for enthusiastic food consumption that I do for constant musical intake. But it doesn't take much for a social media addict like myself to convince herself that indulging in can be a public service. Since my Chowhound-devoted husband and I arrived in New Orleans two and a half weeks ago, I've been regaling (the hungry say torturing) my Facebook friends with pictorial documentation of our gustatory journeys as we move â€” like those fish who never close their mouths â€” through this irresistibly tasty city.
The Gluttony Series in my Mobile Uploads folder features my shaky iPhone snaps of the duck confit Po'Boy from Crabby Jack's; the oysters, broiled and on the half shell, at Borgne; Cochon Butcher's amazing house-cured meats; the famous Godzilla crab at Jacques-Imo's, a crÃ¨me brulee to die for at Herbsaint; and my personal favorite, the squid and Pimenton sausage sandwich at Maurepas. (Okay, I'll stop! I'm making myself jealous now.) We've spent our daughter's college fund contributing to the local restaurant economy, but at least I can fool myself into thinking I've given friends a useful guide for their next trip down the Mississippi.
As I dug into the shrimp and cabbage salad at Pho Tau Bay yesterday, however, I realized that my cuisine quest was even threatening to overshadow the amazing musical immersion NOLA has also granted me. I'm a glutton for sound, too, and dancing, and the convivial crush of bodies in a crowded club. I need to share these indulgences too. So here's the Gluttony Series, Part Two: a selective playlist of some of the best sounds I sampled in the city where everything's worth a listen.
Thanks to all the YouTube pioneers who recorded other version of what I saw and heard.
The New Orleans Gluttony Series: Music Version
Swing At The Spotted Cat
The second day I was in town, I walked into this Frenchmen Street club to catch the singer Meschiya Lake and her Little Big Horns. She was excellent, but what I really loved were the dancers: young couples who'd pop in for a quick Texas Tommy, and others who'd trade partners throughout the night. After that, Frenchmen Street's swing headquarters Spotted Cat became my watering hole whenever I needed the nutrition of graceful movement matched to salubrious sounds.
Bounce Night At Republic
A very different dance lured us into this downtown club: the lascivious booty-shaking that's becoming as much a NOLA tradition as the second line. (Really, it's just a 21st century version of the Congo Square scene that gave birth to modern music.) My favorite in a bill headlined by estimable diva Big Freedia was Nicky Da B, whose professional sass and new Diplo-produced single "Express Yourself" are bringing bounce to a new generation.
The Brass Band Thing
Come to New Orleans, and you're going to get chased by a trombone man. Brass bands stake out space on many corners downtown and rule plenty of club nights. We caught a few, including the masterful Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf. None topped the young crew called the Stooges. The band manages a St. Claude club called the Hi Ho Lounge, where we caught them playing multiple sets at their regular Thursday night gig. Classic repertoire merged with hip-hop and soul as the Stooges blew for 40 minutes at a time, jumped off the stage to greet friends in the audience, and led the crowd in the sexiest version of the Wobble I've ever seen.
Stars Of 'Treme'
New Orleans music isn't just about fine tunes and jumping rhythms: it's about personality. David Simon's HBO series has highlighted a few key characters, and one touristy but worthwhile activity is chasing down his stars in their favorite haunts. Kermit Ruffins was a charmer at Bullet's Sports Bar, bantering with the regulars as they poured their Chivas into ice-filled plastic cups, and tossing off brilliant trumpet lines in between toasts. At DBA, Glen David Andrews crashed even farther through the fourth wall, wandering through the club and singing gospel right into fans's ears before leading everyone in a napkin-waving dance to the Treme theme song.
The Smoky Bywater
I've already written a bit about this bohemian neighborhood east of the French Quarter; I was happy to return to catch some raw, woozy, retro-cool sounds there one night. On Mondays, King James and the Special Men, former fixtures at Ernie K-Doe's now defunct Mother-In-Law Lounge, does its thing at BJ's. The dive gets as packed and smoky as the inside of a lit cigarette and the Special Men crank out obscure blues and R&B right in the middle of the joint, with no stage between them and the audience. Chaotic. Fun.
The Prince Of New Orleans
Every feast includes a favorite dish, and the musical experience that gave me the most pleasure was Davell Crawford's Tuesday night set at the beloved jazz club, Snug Harbor. Like so many notables here, Crawford is the son of a prominent musical family who's both highly individualistic and aware of his debt to tradition. He's the kind of artist who can take a hopelessly overplayed chestnut and shoot it full of life, or make an obscurity sound like something you've loved since you were a baby. In any other city, he'd be a huge standout. Here he's just part of the inexhaustible feast.